Impact of Mental Illness on Families
When mental illness first strikes, family members may deny the person has a continuing illness. During the acute episode family members will be alarmed by what is happening to their loved one. When the episode is over and the family member returns home, everyone will feel a tremendous sense of relief. All involved want to put this painful time in the past and focus on the future. Many times, particularly when the illness is a new phenomenon in the family, everyone may believe that since the person is now doing very well that symptomatic behavior will never return. They may also look for other answers, hoping that the symptoms were caused by some other physical problem or external stressors that can be removed. For example, some families
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She brought food to the trailer, left it outside and hoped her son would open the door and take the food. He only did so after she left, because he did not want to speak with her, as he believed that if he spoke to her, aliens would "zap" her and she would become one of "them" This went on for eighteen months, until his situation deteriorated to a point where he was deemed a "danger to himself and others," and was hospitalized. The ongoing pressure and dismay for this mother was a burden that took a terrible toll on her as she coped the best she could with a very disturbed son and a mental health system that did not view her son as so ill that he could access treatment. This parent went from agency to agency and from advocacy group to advocacy group seeking help for her son. In time, that help came. But, during those eighteen months of anguish, she lost weight, slept fitfully and had crying bouts at work.
Family members may have trouble understanding any difficulties the person is having, or they may tell themselves that the person will "snap out of it" if given time, support and encouragement. Families may become angry and frustrated as they struggle to get back to a routine that previously they have taken for granted. How much easier to believe everything will go on as before, rather than to focus on the changes and adjustments the person and the family must make. This behavior often results in the family going from crisis to crisis, without any plan to