When Mental Illness Enters a Family

Families notice when a loved begins to be different from the child, spouse, sibling or parent that they have known. Their loved one isolates him(or her)self from family and friends; shows persistent changes in sleep, eating and hygiene; says or does odd things that suggest their thinking is off, maybe behaving as if there is danger lurking or hearing or seeing things others are not; is moody, irritable or intolerant of the slightest of questions or statements; or uses or abuses alcohol and drugs.

When mental illness enters a family, they soon face two types of problems: The first is how to understand and navigate a broken, confusing and too often exasperating mental health system. The second is to understand what they can do to help a love one who – because of guilt, shame, or illness – won’t help themselves.

These are questions that can be – and must be answered – if families are to do what they want more than anything, namely to help their loved one get the care that will make a difference in their lives and that of their families.

With more than one in five adults and adolescents effected by a mental illness annually, there are few families who are spared. And families are often the greatest resource and source of support an ill person can have, whatever persistent illness they suffer – including mental illnesses.

I have four messages for families: (1) Don’t go it alone. There are people and places to turn to. (2) Don’t get into fights. There are alternatives that work better. (3) Learn the rules of how the mental health care system works and how to bend those rules. (4) Appreciate that you are on more of a marathon than a sprint. Which means never, ever, giving up.

In my TEDx talk which you can watch at: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRO0-JXuFMY), I talk about these four messages. I hope you will view the talk.

Dr. Sederer’s book for families who have a member with a mental illness, The Family Guide to Mental Health Care (Foreword by Glenn Close), is now available in paperback.

Dr. Sederer is a psychiatrist and public health physician. The views expressed here are entirely his own. He takes no support from any pharmaceutical or device company. You can follow Dr. Sederer at www.askdrlloyd.com, and at www.twitter.com/askdrlloyd.

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