Sliding Otter News 8/13/2011

The Family Challenge of Mental Illness Illness

Candle by Peter Langen

Illness has always brought me nearer to a state of grace.
~Abbe Piere~

Families usually face a crisis when a member is diagnosed with mental illness. Sometimes the diagnosis confirms what they suspected for years. Sometimes it is a bolt from the blue. They struggle to understand what is happening, why it happens and what to do about it.

Mental illness can ravage a family with uncertainty, blame and confusion. Some families never recover and remain fractured. Others rise to the challenge, overcome the humiliation and embarrassment it causes and find ways to accept and support their mental ill family members.

Some mentally ill family members need constant supervision. Some return to their former level of functioning. Others have times when they function quite well and times when they don’t do so well. Physical health, medication and life circumstances as well as social supports can all make a difference in their lives. My family has had its ups and downs with mental illness and mental health. Everything has been stable for years. We became somewhat complacent and had no premonition that we would plunge into another crisis.

Recently one of our family members who had done well for years began showing medical difficulties associated with side effects of his medication. His doctor decided that he needed to change medication. All seemed to be going smoothly for a while. Then it gradually became clear that something was amiss. Now it feels like we are back to square one.

But we are not. Over the years, we have learned to understand the nature and unpredictability of mental illness. We have learned not to be embarrassed by or ashamed of our family struggle. We have learned not to blame anyone. We know that we don’t like to to see this happen to our loved one and are relieved that it did not take his life.

We know that there are no guarantees that this will be the last crisis. We don’t know what the future holds for any of us. Together we have gotten through difficult times in the past. We can help each other through whatever awaits us. We thank God that mental illness has ultimately brought us closer together rather than driven us apart. We are grateful for the community resources which have helped us through our ordeals and helped us return to relative stability. We are thankful for those who have supported and prayed for us over the years and who still do.

We would like other families to know that they can help each other surmount any difficulties life throws their way. It is not always easy and sometimes we trip over each other in our efforts to do what is helpful. We haven’t given up despite setbacks and know that other families can do at least as well as we have.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Do you have a mentally ill family member?
  • Don’t pretend that it is not a problem.
  • Listen to your mentally ill family members.
  • Listen to each other.
  • Find ways to help each other cope with the challenges.


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