Your son (or daughter or parent or spouse) has just been diagnosed with a mental illness. It may be depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, perhaps even schizophrenia. If you’re the parent of the mentally ill person you may feel guilt (“I passed this on to him/her” or “I failed him/ her”). Sometimes shame sneaks into that mess of emotions you’re experiencing. Maybe you’re afraid of being judged by others because of the stigma. You may even feel anger or resentment toward the person with the mental illness, especially if he or she exhibits inappropriate behavior. It’s natural to feel that way.
When a loved one has a mental illness, the entire family is affected. A parent may grieve over the future she/he thought the child would have. A sibling may resent the attention the mentally-ill family member is getting from the parents (or simply might be afraid of the affected loved one’s angry outbursts). Family members of a mentally ill person may feel like they are walking on eggshells. They’re afraid of angering or upsetting him (or her). One way or another, lives are turned upside down in that household.
When dealing with mental illness in a family member, it is important to understand you’re not alone. Other families are going through the same experiences as you. Reaching out to groups such as NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) is a good place to start. The website (listed below) provides a 24-hour helpline. Other resources there will assist you in finding support groups and information for getting your family member the help he or she needs. Talking with someone else who is in the same situation can often provide insight into caring for the mentally-ill family member.
Learn about mental illness – the different types, symptoms, and treatment options. Not only will you be better prepared to handle this new and difficult set of problems, it will also teach you to have empathy for what the mentally-ill family member is experiencing. The more you know, the better prepared you will be in dealing with this life-changing situation.