Family Members' Attitudes About Mental Illness
I am in the interesting position of being both a family member of a mentally ill person and being mentally ill myself. It sometimes gives me a unique understanding into both sides of the issues that can arise between the ill person and their family members.
Family Members and Mental Illness
We know that mental illness can wreak havoc upon relationships. And what relationships are more intimate than our close family, especially those who we might live with? After all, both the family and the ill family member can know each other so well it can become an impediment to meaningful communication.
One of the factors in having a relationship with a mentally ill family member is the specific disorder being suffered by the person. Although it’s true that almost all mental disorders will cause some kind of relational dysfunction, there are those that seem especially difficult when dealing with ill family members.
For example, a person who suffers from bipolar disorder with delusions could be extremely difficult to deal with because the ill person can’t recognize the delusions for what they are and the family members often have no idea how to deal with a delusional person. It’s counterintuitive. We may feel the thing to do is to repeatedly tell the person over and over they are having delusions. Makes sense.
However, this can actually strengthen the individual’s delusion, especially if the delusion is of the persecutory type. If the sufferer believes their family is out to get them, almost anything the family might say will most likely deepen the person’s delusion. This kind of nuanced thinking can only take place when family members are educated about their loved one’s symptoms and how they are experienced.
3 Ways to Deepen Understanding With a Mentally Ill Loved One
- Educate yourself--This is always important with any illness, but especially with mental illness. If we know the symptoms and other aspects of our loved one’s illness, we will be in a better position to help them through it and to assist them in their treatment, not to mention giving us a deeper and more compassionate view of our ill family member. The great thing is there are informational websites like HealthyPlace that make educating ourselves rather simple, which removes excuses we might have about not understanding the illness.
- See loved one beyond illness--Sometimes people become defined by their condition. This is something decried in the mental health community, and rightly so. We don’t want people to exist solely as a person with mental illness. There is so much more for them. Even though this is true, many people cannot bring themselves out of their illness and might be unable to define themselves as anything other than an afflicted person.
- Encourage treatment--There’s other ways to support treatment than just reminding the ill person to take their medication, although that’s very important. For example, one might say, “Hey, when’s your next appointment? I’ll give you a ride,” or “Hey, wanna go for a walk?"
Understanding Your Mentally Healthy Relative
- Educate yourself--Just as the family members, the ill must educate themselves about the hardships of being a family member of a person with mental illness. It’s important to understand the difficulty there can be being a relative to someone with a mental illness so you can have empathy.
- Follow your treatment--This is paramount to help your loved ones. If you don’t take your medicine properly, your health will deteriorate and this will cause untold trouble for the family. It’s a nightmare when your loved one isn’t following treatment, because you have no control over it. You can’t force feed them their medications. You can’t talk to the medical personnel because of privacy concerns. But their deteriorating health causes much upset in the family. Not being responsible and honest about your treatment adherence is really an immature and selfish thing to do to people you purport to love.
With a little work, we can deepen our family relationships and work around our illness.
Ehrmantrout, M. (2014, October 29). Family Members' Attitudes About Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2014/10/family-members-attitudes-about-mental-illness