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Convincing Family Member of Mental Illness Diagnosis

I’ve had the privilege of meeting many wonderful people who happen to be diagnosed with mental illness and look forward to many more.

There are many stages we go through with any life change, and mental illness is no exception. Families have stages of acceptance, certainly the Person Affected by Mental Illness (PAMI) does too. *

When I talk with a PAMI who is at a stage of acceptance of his mental illness diagnosis, takes her own meds without supervision and is living a functional, productive life, I often ask if there were any particular turning points in their recovery process. In particular, I want to know: Was there a moment when it clicked? When you accepted your diagnosis as true?

Not once – not once! – has anyone said, “My mother finally convinced me I have schizophrenia.”

railing in stairwell

Support When Needed

So – this is not my job. Whew. This is my son Ben’s journey, and all I can do is be, as he once wrote in a beautiful poem to me, the “railing in the stairwell as I help myself up a mountain.”

Accepting Mental Illness Diagnosis Can Take Time

Last night, I retrieved a voice message from one of the readers of my book, Ben Behind His Voices.  She is the mother of a 21-year-old son with schizophrenia and their family is having a tough time right now.

Ben is in the room as I hear the message – on speakerphone.

“Are you going to call her back, Mom?”, he asks.

“Sure, Ben. I don’t know how much I can tell her that she doesn’t already know, but maybe I can just listen so she doesn’t feel so alone.”

“Oh.” Is this too much for him, I wonder? Should I have shielded him from this?

Then Ben makes an offer that amazes me.

“How about if I talk to her son? Do you think that would help?”

Wow. He is seriously willing to – seems to want to – do this.

“Ben, that is so wonderful of you to offer.” I try to hide my surprise – and my concerns. “Just wondering, though – what would you say to him? Would you want to tell him you have schizophrenia?”

Ben and I have agreed to disagree on this. When I stopped trying to “convince” him, things between us got much better.

“Mom, ” Ben says, “I’ll just tell him that I used to go off my meds and that now that I’m staying on them, life is better. I’ll tell him the truth – that I don’t necessarily agree with my mother about any illness and that we don’t argue about that anymore. All I know is that I take my meds now and don’t try to get away with anything.”

Tread carefully, I think. But I have to ask: “Why?”

“Because I like that I am doing better and I don’t ever want to go back to the psychiatric hospital. So I’ll give him good advice – to take his meds.”

And that, I think, is good enough for now.

So we try to call the family back, but no answer – twice. I hope – we both hope – that they are okay. We will try again – if the same offer from Ben still stands. You never know. But I am so glad that his heart spoke up tonight.

Ben’s recovery journey has taken him far in the past ten months – in fact, he has traveled far in the past nine years since finding the

Rocky Road

Rocky Road of Recovery - with Beauty too

medication balance that works best for him. (and, yes, there has been backtracking on that trek as well). Still, he does not say he has schizophrenia. He will tell you that he is doing much better in life because he no longer smokes pot - and AA/NA recovery meetings provide a wonderful sense of community for him in that realm.

That’s fine with me. As Dr. Xavier Amador reminds us about medication adherence, “You do not win on the strength of your argument, you win on the strength of your relationship.” I do not make it my job to “convince” Ben that he has schizophrenia. It is just something he now, finally, agrees to do – at least for today.

Right now – that is enough.

—–

*(Yes, we are all “affected” by someone else’s diagnosis, but here I use this term for the person who has been diagnosed. It beats saying “consumer”, a term some  tell me is insulting to them – so for now I use “PAMI”, an acronym I created. Open to other ideas, of course, as we search for a respectful and accurate term. I think I like PAMI because is has ami in it, French for friend…)

This entry was posted in Family Experience with Mental Illness, Parenting and Mental Illness, Peer-to-Peer, Recovery in Mental Illness and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Convincing Family Member of Mental Illness Diagnosis

  1. Hi Randye,

    Nice piece. It’s not your job per se but it’s one that people end up doing because they’re the only ones who can. These are people that are more at the beginning of the process than you are, of course.

    But I do like the notion that you win on the strength of your relationship more than your argument. I’m not that way, personally, as I’m a logic minded person, but I suspect it works the other way for many particularly in the depths of illness.

    - Natasha

  2. Randye Kaye says:

    Thanks, Natasha. Believe me, if I could “convince” Ben, I would! So in our case, we are not the ones who can. I think trying to “prove” this to Ben would only be an obstacle in his acceptance journey. Even as a child, he always wanted to feel as if he formed his own choices and ideas with no “help” from anyone. If he ever gets to acceptance, it will somehow come from within, or perhaps sparked by someone other than a parent.

    But I do plant seeds! – subtle ones. And then practice patience and gratitude :)
    thanks,
    Randye

  3. That sounds like a good attitude to me.

    - Natasha

  4. Dr Musli Ferati says:

    Undoubted the convincing process of mental illness diagnosis to family member exhibits the principal step in satisfying dealing with mental disease. Moreover, this statement embraces all that conscious and unconscious defiance toward mental illness. As a general rule, mental disorders are direct consequences of brain disorders that are still outside of our objective perception.In spite of imposing achievements of neuroscience, it remains more misunderstanding on these health disorders, that render more difficult the appropriate psychiatric treatment of mental illnesses. By me, this impassable barrier is the result of long-term atavism on mental disorder such is magician conception of mental health and mental disease as well. Therefore, there are many displeasing methods and antipsychiatric procedures that used worldwide till nowadays.

  5. Wendy says:

    Here is the most important thing I’ve recently learned:

    Anosognosia is the single largest reason why individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not take their medications. This impaired awareness of illness is caused by damage to specific parts of the brain, and affects approximately 50 percent of individuals with schizophrenia and 40 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder. Medications can improve awareness in some patients.

    This realization is almost equally as difficult to impress upon other family members, that after telling our brother 100 times he is delusional he won’t suddenly acknowledge and agree the 101st time you say it! And repeatedly trying in vain to convince him of his mental illness only builds a wall, makes him vehemently argue then shut down and tune out. The disconnect isn’t always clear and obvious – I used to believe he was just like a stubborn kid with fingers in his ears yellin, “la la LA I can’t hear you!” And refusing to even consider that, for example, he once again simply misplaced his glasses, that “they” didn’t steal the glasses to let him know that they “knew” and were intentionally torturing him…. So frustrating! And what an extremely confusing, heartbreaking, upsetting, irrational, overwhelming long road we have ahead!

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