Responding to Inquiries About Mental Illness in Your Family

December 27, 2013 Guest Author

Do you have a child with mental illness? Sometimes, receiving inquiries from others about your child's mental health situation can catch you off-guard or be awkward.

How is Your Child (With Mental Illness)?

Family gatherings, the holidays, seeing friends – everyone means well, don’t they? But when people come up to you and ask, “And how is your son/daughter doing?” Ugh, don’t you hate having to answer that question? I do.

Having a child with mental illness adds its own layer of difficulty. So I have come up with 3 time-tested suggested replies to offer during this holiday season or anytime you run into people you know.

Sometimes, receiving inquiries from others about your child's mental illness can catch you off-guard or be awkward. Get suggested responses.Situation #1: For the person who comes up to you at a holiday party, at your church or synagogue after services, who bumps into you while shopping – you know them, or at least you recognize their face; they may once have been the parent of a kid on your kid’s soccer team or a dad who drove car-pool. All good cheer and innocence, they ask - “How is Taylor doing? She must be out of college by now”.

Suggested answer: - “She is doing fine. Thanks for asking. And how is Ashley these days?”

That’s it. No details necessary. Believe me, the person asking the question doesn’t really want to be burdened by the information you may consider sharing. Their job is to inquire, you answer and move on.

Situation #2: For the person you know somewhat better, maybe a cousin you see on occasion, the ex-book club member, your former neighbor, the mom of the nice girl in your son’s Sunday school class who you chatted with while waiting for pick-up. They know – through the community grapevine or friends of friends – that your daughter may have had, still may be going through a rough patch with her mental health. They don’t know details. They don’t use the word “mental illness” in daily conversation. But here it again, that question – “How is Taylor doing?”

Suggested answer: - “She is still struggling with her mental health; thank you for asking”.

Now if the cousin, book club member, neighbor, mom of former class-mate needs more information, it is his or her turn. More likely - “Sorry to hear that. Hope things improve” – and he or she walks away. You are done. Move on.

Situation #3: On occasion, someone really wants to know the answer to their question. You may be at a small dinner or other gathering. A friend or colleague comes up to you; he or she is someone who knows what is going on with Taylor and even more importantly, knows that you are also dealing with what is going on with Taylor and perhaps even more rarely, actually cares about what is going on with Taylor and what is going on with you.

That person asks “How is Taylor doing?”

Suggested answer: -- “Not well, she has been unstable lately. Life for all of us has been tough”.

And with any luck, the person you are talking to does not consider her duty is done just by having asked the question nor does she run away in the opposite direction nor does she open up to you about her second cousin who once had depression. Instead that person says, “That must really suck. Let’s talk. I will listen”.

Three answers. Hope one is useful to you and yours as you celebrate this holiday season as a member of a family dealing with mental illness.

(For more information on parenting a child with mental illness, visit the HealthyPlace Parenting Community)

About the author:

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. Her website is Your Bridge Forward. You can also find her tweets @_nwolf. Read Nancy's other article for HealthyPlace, "With Mental Illness in the Family, You Don’t Get Lasagna".

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

APA Reference
Author, G. (2013, December 27). Responding to Inquiries About Mental Illness in Your Family, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Guest Author

December, 31 2014 at 12:29 pm

Before ever answering any such quesrion about your child, it is best to have your childs permission to share such an intimate part of their life that whether you want it to or not, comes with a devestating stigma which in turn intesifies depression and shame in most. Also let's look at the fact that many "mental illness" diagnosis, especially in youth and I would venture to say in adults as well, are just normal human reactions to some sort of trauma. Telling someone they ar sick because they are a victim only adds to their pain. Giving mind altering drugs, to an unproven theory of chemical imbalance is seen by many as an abuse to the soul. Tread carefully for you may end up with an adult child, who although may love you, struggles with deep rooted anger, fear and distrust of you for popping pills and labeling them instead of taking the time to love them through it. ...
Survivor of Psychiatric Torture

Dr Musli Ferati
June, 7 2014 at 12:41 am

Indeed, responding to inquires about mental condition to any member of on own family indicates difficult interpersonal situation. But, to deal with this inquires on occasion to any mental illness of your child, the situation becomes more frustration and dramatic, anyhow. The reasons for this grave psycho-social situation are numerous, but the struggles of stigma to mental disorders takes primary place. The second one is the feeling of guilt as parent and educator of mentally ill person. The tyranny of this relationship embraces the sense of shame, compassionate, depression, sorrow, keeping secret, low self-esteem, exclusion, contempt and so on. Moreover, mental illnesses have got halo effect, which one ruins the appropriate process of rehabilitation and re-socialization of loved ones mentally ill person. "Circulus vitiosus" of mental disorder in family with psychiatric patient affect mental health of all together family's members. So, your three solutions on responding to inquires about mental illness in family are welcomed. They, make possible to soften ever so little the great pain of person with this hard family problem.

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