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With Mental Illness in the Family, You Don’t Get Lasagna

Let’s say you are a Mom, just diagnosed with breast cancer. After the shock wears off, you get on the phone and quickly connect to a network of knowledge given you by friends and friends of friends. You get names of doctors, surgeons, hospitals; you learn about treatment options. Friends and family visit; out-of-towners send cards and flowers. People you hardly know stop by to deliver meals. You are supported by friends and family; confident in your health care choices.

– Or:

Let’s say you are a mom, and your 19 year old daughter is asked to take a leave of absence from college. The dean of students suggests she may have serious depression. After the shock wears off, you get on the phone but this time your friends and friends of friends do not offer up a network of knowledge. It is up to you to find a doctor, a hospital, a treatment plan. Some friends don’t return your calls. Family members shy away. Many don’t ask how your daughter is doing; even fewer reach out directly to her (as if mental illness were somehow contagious by inquiry).

As a parent of a child with mental illness, I sadly discovered that friends and family are nowhere to be found.Soon you discover, to your surprise, that there are no set treatment choices. Your daughter starts with one doctor, then moves to another; medications change; therapy evolves. And not one card is received. No one visits. No fruit baskets, no flowers, no casseroles.

With mental illness in the family, you do not get lasagna.

With Mental Illness, Families Left to Fend For Themselves

I am the Mom in the second paragraph. And I know I am not alone. If you are a parent in a similar place, you too may be frustrated with the lack of definitive solutions in the world of mental health. It becomes your responsibility to become well-informed, to learn all you can about psychiatric medications, therapies and programs, to become an “involuntary expert” in the field of young adult mental health.

And like me, you have watched while your young adult rides the rollercoaster of their mental illness. You have tough choices along the way – when to step in to help – and when to back off and let your young adult child chart his or her own path. If you can’t rescue your own child, some parents turn to advocacy for others, as I do. I also started a support group for other parents of children with mental illness which I find immensely helpful.

But in the back of my mind, I still remember that missing fruit basket, and the lasagna that never showed up on my doorstep.

Note to my friends and family – and to yours: deliveries still accepted. Support welcome. And I still love lasagna.

This article was written by:

Nancy L. Wolf is a parent, lawyer and young adult mental health advocate. Nancy created and runs a support and resource group on Facebook for parents of young adults who struggle with mental illness. You can also find her tweets @_nwolf.

To be a guest author on the Your Mental Health Blog, go here.

33 thoughts on “With Mental Illness in the Family, You Don’t Get Lasagna”

  1. My adult son suffers from scizophrenia and has been in hospital from March so for 7 months. Other than myself, my sister and my nieces and nephew no one had visited or sent cards or anything else to him. My heart breaks for him as he blames himself for being ill – 3 suicide attempts yada yada. Today a church “friend” came into my work and mentioned she hadnt seen me I. Church for s while. I told her he has been in the hospital for the past $ months so I have been visiting him in the weekends. I didn’t sY a word about his iness. It has made us both invisible. That is the only way society can deal with it-to ignore it

  2. Like I said, people are so fake it hurts! The same ones who were visiting you in the hospital if you had cancer, are the same ones leaving you if you spend time in a psych ward. Tell them you can see right through their fakeness, pick up a book, read about mental illness and stop hurting people’s feelings.

  3. Honestly,

    I would tell those people to [moderated] off! If they’re going to be mean and nasty to you when you’re ill, but only care about you when you have cancer, then they’re fake people that you don’t want around.

    Are they acting in a Christ-like manner to all of those who are hurting or only towards the ones that they really care about?

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