Having a family member with a mental illness can be very stressful. Whether the ill person is a son, daughter, husband, wife, brother or sister, you will be affected by their illness too. A person with a psychiatric disorder often needs much love, help and support. At the same time, the problems, fears and behavior of your ill relative may strain your patience and your ability to cope.
There are many different kinds of mental illness, and each has its own symptoms. During periods when your relative is ill, he/she may be demanding and disruptive, or extremely withdrawn and inactive. In fact, an ill person’s behavior may keep on changing because the symptoms may fluctuate.
Whether you suspect, or know for certain, that a member of your family has a psychiatric disorder, you will probably find that it helps to learn about the disorder.
What causes mental illness?
Mental illness has no single cause. In the past, parents were routinely blamed if their child developed a mental illness. More recently, there has been increasing medical evidence that many of the major mental illnesses involve biochemical imbalances in the body. This knowledge is helping to remove the burden of guilt and blame from parents’ shoulders.
How a diagnosis is made?
Diagnosing a mental illness is not always a simple matter. A psychiatrist may take a long time to determine the nature of the illness, and sometimes, a different diagnosis may be made by another psychiatrist.
Since patients’ medical records are confidential, doctors cannot tell the family directly what the diagnosis is. To avoid the frustration of not knowing what is happening, encourage your ill relative to tell you about his/her diagnosis and treatment.
Coping with your relative’s symptoms
Much of the unusual behavior associated with some mental illnesses is beyond the control of the person with the illness.
At times, your ill relative may embarrass you in front of friends and neighbors. Because it is difficult to talk about your relative’s problems with people outside your immediate family, you may not offer an explanation. Many families, unfortunately, give up their own social lives when a relative becomes mentally ill because they are nervous about inviting people into their home.
While it takes courage to tell your friends and family about your relative’s illness, it is not good to isolate yourself. Try to find ways to explain the illness and the treatment to others, and to talk about the discomfort you and other people feel as a result of your relative’s behavior.
Although your relative cannot “turn off” the symptoms, there are limits to the kind of behavior you can deal with in your home. If your mentally ill relative is doing things which put him/her or anyone else in danger, you may have to refuse to let him/her continue to live with you at least until the dangerous behavior changes.
How are mental illnesses treated?
Treatment is different for each mental illness. Alot of them medication helps treat them, other long term therapy can help, yet others it is a combination of both medications and therapy can help.
Support for the family
Having a mentally ill member in your family can add an extra strain much of the time for the rest of the family. You may worry about how the person with the illness is going to behave: if he/she will become violent, verbally abusive or careless about safety and security. If the ill relative is living in your home, you may become depressed, anxious or angry yourself.
ln many communities, there are self-help support groups for families of mentally ill people, which are set up by families in similar situations. It can be extremely helpful to share your burdens with others and to get more information about the illness and other community resources.
Another option is to consider getting a therapist for yourself to help you deal with the depression, anxiety or anger you may be feeling as a result of the stress of trying to support and care for a person with a mental illness.
What can you do in a crisis?
From time to time, your relative’s symptoms may become severe. When this happens, it is important for him/her to see a psychiatrist right away. This can be easy if he/ she agree that help is needed. If your relative refuses to visit a doctor or to go to a hospital emergency room, you have a much more difficult situation on your hands. If all your efforts to persuade him/her to go for help fail, try to get someone else involved. If you think he/she is becoming dangerous to anyone, you can call the police and ask them to take him/her to the hospital.
Some communities have special psychiatric crisis programs. Find out, in advance, if this kind of service is available where you live.
You may also wish to contact your local chapter of NAMI you can find a chapter by going to www.nami.org