Coping with a mental illness of a family member is not easy. However hard you might pray for a normal family with normal family members it’s never going to happen and the sooner you come to realize that fact the easier it will be.
Mental illness can seriously rock a families health whether it is bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia or manic depression etc. Family members were never born with coping skills nor tools to manage. Just as motherhood is something you learn to cope with as you go along, so is mental illness. Each individual in the family might have a different way to deal with it and sometimes the person with mental illness can be oblivious to the pain he or she inflicts on the family and the affect the illness has on family dynamics.
Mental illness can improve though and one’s relationship to it within the family.
A family may experience frustration and anger dealing with their inability to help the sick person. This is normal and yet what is the best way to cope? How is it possible to constantly deal with their moods, having to remind them to take medication, assisting them in day to day life and yet trying to maintain your own life and be happy? Trying to help a mentally ill person can be emotional and physically draining.
The Counselling Centre at the University of Illinois (2015) states family members of a mentally ill person or persons might suffer from these symptoms :
1. Acknowledge that you have a family member with a mental illness and the effects this may have on you.
2. Develop new ways of taking care of yourself.
3. Develop new ways of relating to others.
4. Explore other resources.
I feel boundaries as mentioned above must be especially noted. Just because someone is mentally ill does not mean that you have to suffer from abuse, or take on their problems as your own. It is important to set your own limits. For example:
“If you continue to talk to me in this manner, I will distance myself.”
“If you would like my assistance I feel you should listen to my suggestions and stop repeating your problem. If you don’t want to help yourself I cannot help you.”
By acting on your words, you are teaching the other that they must try to correct themselves and they are responsible for their own happiness and health.
It is not up to the healthy family member to solve a sick brother or sister or daughter’s problems and to stop living their own life. It is important to guide them to trust themselves. Learning to look after ourselves and not drawn into their problems is a work in process and the more we take care of ourselves we can be of better service to our sick family members.
(Leslie Anne Franklin is not a medical professional and writes from her own personal experience and research)
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