Parents: Parents are the ones who usually have to find psychological and other services for their sick child, often having to deal with a system that is reluctant to acknowlege them as equal partners in their child’s recovery process. Research has shown that famlies are not to blame for a child’s mental illness, yet many professionals have trouble overcoming this feeling. Parents on the other hand, have to understand that mental illnesses are medical illnesses which will help reduce some of the guilt that they feel. Parents who have other children have less time to devote to them as mental illness requires increased attention and time.
On husbands or wives: Living with a spouse who has a mental illness places a great strain on their relationship. The couple’s social life as well as their physical intimacy may change as both partners will feel grief for the loss of the life they had imagined they would share together.
On siblings: Other siblings can become very confused about the stigma associated with mental illness. Their family life starts to revolve around their ill sibling. They might feel bad because they are healthy, and also fear that they too might develop a mental illness. There are siblings who worry about the future – a future when they might have to take on the role of primary caregiver. Of course they could seek counseling but siblings are usually unwilling to search for a counsellor. They might feel confusion due to their sibling’s changed behavior. They might suffer embarrassment about being seen with their ill sibling. They might feel jealous of the fact that their parents give unending attention to their ill sibling. They might resent not being like the other families in their neighorhood. But their overriding fear is of contracting a mental illness themselves. They need to be given information as well as encouragement and should be egged on to ask questions and share their feelings. They should participate in activities outside the home and get on with their own lives.
The only way to support the other children is to make time for them to enable them to feel safe and secure. Family outings are important. Parents should talk aboaut their feelings and encourage their children to share theirs. It is not a good idea to pretend that everything is fine when it is not. It is a good idea to encourage them to meet with others in similar situations but this does not always work. Have a list of names and telephone numbers of caring adults they can call if they need help. They also need to have clear instructions of what to do in an emergency.
Living with our son’s paranoid schizophrenia turned me into a more tolerant person, a stronger person, a less judgmental one, a more compassionate and caring person.