When a family member has been diagnosed with a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, it can feel as if the whole world has come crashing down.
People want to help, but other emotions can get in the way: anger over the situation, frustration with the pace of progress, tension when members of the family disagree on treatment.
Families often fear that the person with the illness will be disabled for life, particularly after a psychiatric hospitalization. But with a sound treatment plan of medication and therapy, even someone with significant mental illness often can return to a normal life.
But how’s a family to cope in the meantime?
First, it’s critical that family members get the support they need while providing care and support for someone in treatment. This can come in the form of friends, clergy, therapy, and family interaction.
Stigma can be a barrier for families. People may not feel comfortable sharing with friends or co-workers that their family member is being treated for mental illness. As a result, they may not receive the support that comes from sharing what they are going through. This can lead to feelings of separation and isolation.
It is very hard for the public to understand the bizarre thinking and behavior that can accompany moderate to severe mental illness. It can be stressful, frightening and bewildering for the family as well. It may also be embarrassing witnessing other people’s reactions to a loved one responding to “voices” only they can hear.
Families can be frustrated by the huge disruption in normal routines. They may find they reel from crisis to crisis resulting from multiple hospitalizations and the loss of life as they knew it. The needs of the ill family member become paramount. On top of the obvious stress this causes are the normal needs of the rest of the family. Siblings of the seriously mentally ill person can suffer tremendously. Mom and dad may be completely focused on the ill member, unintentionally neglecting the other children in the family. Family life and routines become a thing of the past.
To avoid the family falling into chaos with no energy to deal with normal day-to-day conflict, it is critical that they receive the help they need. Resources include advocacy groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and family or group therapy. Learning more about the illness, confiding in a friend, and asking for help where needed are all good coping strategies.
Frequently the family is the first line of defense for the patient. If caretakers become ill because of the additional stress, there may be no one to take care of the patient. It’s important for family members to get support, sleep, exercise, and avoid assigning guilt or blame. They must learn to give support and accept support, to set limits and say “no.”
As a final suggestion, family members/caregivers need to have outside outlets and interests that allow a break from emotionally difficult situations. Those responsible for another person, particularly someone who is mentally ill, need to good care of themselves first.
Oasis is now offering free, confidential screenings for anxiety and depression on a walk-in basis for those 13 and up, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Mon. – Fri., at our office at 175 Admiral Cochrane Dr., Suite 110, in Annapolis.
Join us for a free community forum on the Effect of Mental Illness on the Family at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Severna Park Community Center, 623 Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard. For more information, visit www.oasismentalhealth.net, or call 410-571-0888.
Content Sponsored and provided by:
Oasis: The Center for Mental Health
Call for an appointment: 410.571.0888