Siblings of Children with Mental Illness
Raising siblings of children with mental illness is challenging. My husband and I have spent so much energy on my 17-year-old son Bob who lives with bipolar disorder and social anxiety, his younger sister, Hannah, is sometimes neglected. Hannah, the sibling of a child with mental illness, has witnessed multiple crises in our family. She has been the trigger or target of her brother's outbursts. It is no wonder she is struggling with mental health issues of her own.
I received a call from the school counselor a few weeks ago. She said Hannah was in her office because she was making threats of self-harm. Honestly, I thought the counselor had it all wrong. This was not Bob, my child with mental illness. This was his sibling, Hannah.
Hannah is always happy. Hannah is a natural athlete who rides horses and plays water polo. Hannah makes her bed, gets ready for school on her own, does her chores and likes homework.
Children with Mental Illness' Siblings Suffer
The counselor suggested I take my daughter to the local psychiatric hospital, crisis center or to see her therapist as soon as possible. Hannah was not permitted to stay at school because the counselor believed she was a threat to herself.
I spoke with Hannah on the phone. Hannah said she could stay safe at school and would meet with her therapist that night. The counselor agreed to the plan and allowed Hannah to return to class. That night Hannah's therapist helped her make a safety contract.
Over the weekend, Hannah had a falling out with her best friend (BFF). Hannah showed me some lengthy texts she received that were loaded with profanity and condemnation only a 15 year-old girl could hurl. Hannah deleted her side of the conversation, but admitted she too had sent incriminating texts. The following days at school were horrific for my sweet daughter.
On Friday, Hannah got smacked in the face by an elbow at water polo practice. Monday, the school counselor told me Hannah was kept after school by the principal and nurse to investigate the injury. When they asked Hannah how she got her black eye, Hannah's story twisted into her brother hitting her with a ball.
Hannah's therapist straightened it out with the school. She said Hannah believed she was in trouble when she was called into the office. She felt scared and wasn't thinking clearly. She told the story about the ball because she was overwhelmed by her emotions.
A few days after the black eye, I stumbled upon some emails Hannah sent to another friend. In the exchange, it was obvious Hannah was self-harming. My stomach dropped. How could this be happening to my daughter? She does not have a mental illness. Her brother does.
Let's be clear about self-harm. Most who self-injure have underlying stress that drive them to self-harm. Self-injury can be a distraction and provide relief. However, it is an unhealthy coping skill and can become an addiction.
Impact on Siblings of Children with Mental Illness
During Hannah's next therapy appointment, she admitted she self-harmed whenever her emotions became overwhelming. Loneliness and fear of abandonment were her triggers. She burned her skin with an eraser. She scratched her torso with a stiff brush. She cut her hands and wrists with a razor and a pen cap.
I'd seen the marks, cuts and scars and asked her about them. She had reasonable explanations like the dog scratched her. I believed her because she is not Bob.
Siblings of children with mental illness suffer. They witness terrible situations in their families. They don't feel safe in their homes. They are treated differently than their siblings with mental illness by their parents. It is difficult for them to compute what is happening and are ill-equipped to cope with overpowering feelings. Some will not share their struggles outside the family, thinking they are protecting the family. Others are afraid to speak up because they don't want to add to their parents' burden. All of this affects them profoundly.
I don’t have the answers on how to raise siblings of children with mental illness. I can only share my experience with you. My eyes are now more focused on my dear daughter. I will parent her with the same vigor and tenacity I do her brother Bob so that she can find alternatives to self-harm and ultimately better tools to deal with her intense emotions.
Halli, C. (2015, May 24). Siblings of Children with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2015/05/siblings-of-children-with-mental-illness
Author: Christina Halli
Recently in the last argument with my older bi-polar sister is that she had told me " you want mom and dad to hate me so you can have them all for yourself" .... it broke my heart I have been crying about those words for three days. does she really believe that? my parents love her, I love her. why does she think that? I recently feel that I want to be invisible and the least bit in everyone's life as possible just so she can see that everyone loves her. She has made me feel unimportant my whole life.
There is much more to my long sappy story ... The grief and remorse I feel burdened on my heart everyday I wish upon not my worst enemy.
She always acts towards me with so much hate. Its like she wants me to hate myself and then before I know it she is telling me how sorry she is and doesn't mean anything she does or says.
It has taken me far too long to realise my daughter has been mentally ill for most of her life.
her brother is now a rigid young man who denies himself any pleasures,who never complains,but who is a wonderful son.His sister has had all the good and bad attention.
I pray for all of us as we struggle through
From the younger siblings perspective.
Thank you for your comment. I totally get where you are coming from. It is so hard to care for our children with mental illness. Sadly, the siblings are affected, too. Our friends and families have no idea unless they have experienced it in their families.
Thank you for sharing your experience. It sounds like it has been horrible for you. I'm glad you are here on HealthyPlace. You sharing your story will certainly help others.