The information below comes from the World Federation for Mental Health and the University of Illinois Counseling Center.
Having a family member with a mental illness impacts the entire family. Feeling helpless? You can make things better when you take positive steps to balance your family’s needs. This makes life better for everyone involved.
You’ll find that you are not in an unusual situation. In fact, any kind of chronic or serious illness, particularly when it strikes a child, impacts an entire family. How? For example, many parents feel more protective of the child who is ill. They may spend more time with that child than they do with their other children. This can make the other children feel left out and less important.
Not only that, the limitations of the ill person and the demands of their care changes the home’s daily routines. Family members find themselves sharing caregiving … or resenting those who don’t help. Fights over what to do next are common.
Family members often experience very strong emotions, including guilt, anger, fear, sadness, anxiety and depression. This, unfortunately, is a normal reaction to stress. So families have to work together to build a sense of “normal” life. This is good for everyone, including the ill person.
Challenges Increase With Mental Illness
It’s no surprise that the challenges increase when a family member has a mental illness. The additional stresses of instability and unpredictability add to the strain.
Family roles can become confused, especially if children find themselves taking on the responsibility of caring for their parents or siblings. Children in this situation often do not get the nurturing that they need.
The stigma of mental illness always makes things worse. Family members may feel too ashamed to talk about their situation. They may withdraw from relatives and friends, feeling ever more isolated and alone.
What Can Go Wrong
Without positive intervention, “well” family members can develop all kinds of difficulties:
- Trouble initiating relationships
- Difficulty in romantic relationships
- Issues with maintaining friendships
- Difficulty with trusting self and others
- Difficulty with balancing the level of intimacy, such as being either excessively dependent or excessively avoidant
- Inability to balance taking care of self and taking care of others
- Guilt and resentment
- Shame or embarrassment
- Fear of inheriting a family member’s mental illness
- Fear of discovery by one’s partner and friends
- Angry outbursts or repressed anger
- Inability to deal with life unless it is chaotic or in crisis
- Becoming overly responsible or irresponsible in many areas of life such as commitments, money, alcohol, relationships, etc.
- Self defeating thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors such as “My needs don’t matter. I’m not worth much. It’s no use trying.”
- A tendency to equate achievement with worth as a person, such as: ”Maybe I can matter if I can excel at something, be perfect in school, my job, my relationships. But if I fail, I’m worthless and terrible.”
You can see why taking proactive steps to balance the needs in your family is so important. Next time, we will talk about some practical ways to do that.