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Kimberly In The Media

When A Family Member Has A Mental Illness

selfcareThere’s lots of information out there about different mental illnesses and how to find help or treatment for them.  But what is often missing is advice for you on how to cope when it’s your child or another family member who has the mental illness.  Perhaps you’ve connected this person with great resources and treatment is progressing as expected, but that doesn’t always mean there isn’t a ripple effect created that impacts you and your family.  Here are three tips for helping yourself, while you’re helping your family member.

Accept your feelings.  You might feel shame, anger, guilt, embarrassment, disappointment.  All of these feelings are normal.   It’s hard to let go of the dreams we have for our children or our families, and sometimes a mental illness gets in the way of those dreams coming true.  Maybe it will help to know that everyone in your position runs through a gamut of emotions; you’re not alone (even if it feels that way).  Sometimes life is challenging in ways we don’t expect, and in those cases, we just do the best we can.  Under these circumstances, advocating for your ill family member and taking care of the business of running your family can seem like an enormous responsibility at times, but remind yourself that anyone in your shoes would feel the same and that you’re doing the best you can.

Develop coping strategies.  There are going to be lots of things you can’t control, so get control where you can.  Whether it’s regular exercise to offset stress, or a monthly night out, or a few minutes with a book before bed, do what you can to impose a little bit of order and structure to your days.  Remember that you can’t give away what you don’t have; it’s important to fill your tank up, too, in order to be able to give your best to your family.  You deserve to have moments of relaxation, and joy, and peace, so create those moments in whatever way you can.

You may also need some coping strategies for dealing with your loved one’s behaviour, either at home or out in public.  Plan ahead for these situations as best you can, and remind yourself that it isn’t personal.  Don’t let public pressure or the judgment of others keep you from doing what you know is best for your family.  Have a plan in place for the unexpected, so you’re not derailed by a crisis.

And finally, stay connected.  Maintain a relationship with your partner; don’t let that become a casualty of the illness.  You’ll feel better if you believe that you have a partner in all that you’re going through, so keep that relationship strong.  Seek out support from others who can relate to your challenges or who are reliably there for you, whether that’s an association or support group, a therapist, or a friend or family member.  It’s hard not to worry about being judged for what your family member is doing or experiencing – sometimes people are not very compassionate about the struggles of others and worry only how it might impact them.  Don’t let this get you down or lead you to shut down about your struggles.  It’s not your responsibility to educate every thoughtless person you meet, but at the same time, staying quiet and not sharing your story keeps the whole topic out of conversation and continues the cycle of misunderstanding and suspicion.

Mental illness can have far-reaching effects on a family, but don’t let it define you.  Know that you’re doing the best you can in exceptional circumstances, have a plan in place and strategies to cope, and don’t let yourself become isolated.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

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About Andrea Ramsay Speers

Andrea Ramsay Speers, M.A. is a Psychotherapist practicing in Oakville. Her entire practice is built around one purpose: helping people enjoy their families more, whether that means coaching parents in learning new parenting tools, increasing connection and harmony between couples, improving relationships with teenagers, or helping individuals overcome their feelings of depression, stress, or anxiety and start enjoying their lives again. She can be found online at www.OakvilleFamilyInstitute.com.


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