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Parenting and Mental Illness

I spoke a little bit in my last video post about how my family all had different ways of supporting my mentally ill brother when he was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression. What started as a reason to argue has turned into one of our greatest strengths as a family – how lucky are we to have so many different types of support to offer our loved one and each other?
My family members each have a different supportive style when it comes to my brother's mental illness. In the early days of his depression and anxiety diagnosis, we used to judge each other for these differences -- each of us believed that our approach was the best one. I am looking at supportive styles differently, now.
There are so many different schools of thought on how to support someone who is mentally ill. In the early days of my brother's diagnosis, I frantically researched the best ways to help him and found myself entirely overwhelmed with all the conflicting information that's out there. One blog would tell me to listen to him talking about his anxious thoughts, the next would tell me to redirect the conversation to avoid fixation. One blog would encourage me to design a routine where the family had coffee together every morning, the next would say to remove all caffeine-based stimulants from the house. I didn't know who to listen to.
In the efforts to support your family member with his or her mental illness, it is easy to stray into the unhelpful territory of micromanaging symptoms. I know this because it's a mistake that I made with my own brother.
Since my brother was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, all types of people have tried to give him advice on his mental health symptoms. Many of these people have no experience of a mental health diagnosis themselves -- and while they mean well, their mental health advice could actually exacerbate depression and anxiety symptoms if my brother followed it.
I must confess, family therapy is something our family has never tried. My brother underwent intensive cognitive behavioral therapy when he was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and the facilitator recommended a family therapy session. My parents declined -- I guess the idea of everyone sitting down and talking about their feelings to a stranger didn't feel right at the time.
How to support someone from a distance is a question that I’ve been asking myself almost every day recently. There’s a literal distance between myself and my brother right now due to COVID-19 restrictions, but he’s also crying out for more freedom and control over his life – how do I balance giving support with giving space?
Caregiver guilt has been something that has featured heavily for me since my brother, Josh,* was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. For me, this caregiver guilt is a very uncomfortable emotion that I struggle to talk about -- and I want to pick it apart a little bit in this post.
Speaking openly about mental illness helps, but one thing I know for certain is that ''talking about your feelings'' cannot cure a diagnosable mental illness. To purport this idea is reductive and shows a deep-rooted misunderstanding of the complex physiological roots of psychiatric conditions. However, through supporting my brother in his experiences with anxiety and depression, I have come to appreciate that talking openly about emotions does play an extremely important role in a family where mental illness is present.
Mental illness can impact a family in many ways, and the children of parents with mental illness need loving support. Children are very sensitive and sometimes clue into differences in behavior that adults miss. As adults, we are often caught up with other concerns: our careers, finances or the latest Netflix series, to name a few. We sometimes forget to pay attention to those around us and may overlook subtle changes. Children, on the other hand, notice everything. I say this from experience: children of parents with mental illness see and feel all of it.