Every year, approximately 1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition. (http://www.newsweek.com/nearly-1-5-americans-suffer-mental-illness-each-year-230608), and anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults.
May is Mental Health Month and The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and its supporters bring awareness to mental health all across the United States. The mission of NAMI is dedication to the “eradication of mental illnesses and to the improvement of the quality of life for persons of all ages who are affected by mental illnesses.” (http://www.namihelps.org/assets/PDFs/fact-sheets/General/Facts-about-NAMI-National.pdf) They inform by providing educators and individuals with the support and information they need through various education programs. They also advocate for those suffering from mental illness as well as their family members. (https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI)
Although millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition, they are not the only ones affected. Parents, spouses, siblings, and children are among those affected when a loved one suffers from a mental health condition.
Parents often feel guilty when their child is diagnosed with a mental illness. They may think that they are to blame, whether through nature or nurture, and it is sometimes difficult to overcome this feeling. They may also be reluctant to discuss their child with others because they do not know how people will react.
Solution: Clear, honest communication is crucial for all family members. In addition, parents should be encouraged to meet others in the same situation. They need to feel like they are not alone. Schools or health care professionals may offer suggestions for peer groups to help the parents cope with their child’s mental health condition.
Any relationship can be challenging at times. However, when a spouse is diagnosed with a mental illness, the relationship becomes more complicated. As with parents, spouses can also feel they are to blame for their loved one suffering from a mental illness. Mental illness can put a strain on the relationship, and their social life and physical intimacy may be affected.
Solution: Being informed about your spouse’s mental illness, as well as counseling, will help to bridge the gap that may occur in the relationship. Talk about your feelings with your spouse, and encourage him or her to do the same. A partner’s attitude and behavior can make an important contribution to recovery for their loved one.
Brothers and sisters of those diagnosed with a mental illness may experience a variety of emotions including confusion, embarrassment, anger, and fear. They may question why their sibling was affected, but not themselves. They must learn to adapt and cope with their sibling’s illness, which can be quite difficult.
Solution: Siblings can often benefit from counseling, whether through school, work, or a mental health professional. They may need reassurance about their own mental health, as well as needing a way to express their feelings and concerns. They need to know they are not alone, and that sharing their feelings can be both helpful and enlightening.
Children also often experience a multitude of emotions, such as confusion, fear, and embarrassment regarding a parent’s mental illness. It might be hard to cope with a parent or understand why they act the way they do. In addition, some children worry about getting a mental illness like their parent,
Solution: Communication is the key to helping children, especially young children, understand their parent’s mental illness. Depending on the age of the child, age-appropriate materials may help to encourage them to discuss their feelings. As the parent, a very powerful way to help your child is to help them understand your illness and its symptoms. When you talk openly about your struggles, it can help your child better cope with their feelings.
Mental illness is a biological brain disease. It is important to realize that you didn’t cause the mental illness in your loved one, nor can you cure it. The variety of feelings you experience are normal, and educating yourself about your loved one’s illness will help you cope with what you are feeling. Through support from other family members and support groups, you will gain strength and valuable knowledge.