When someone has a mental illness, the repercussions of the disease extend beyond their own life, often impacting those closest to them. The families of these individuals can be severely affected by mental health disorders, emotionally, mentally and even physically. Whether it be concerned parents coping with grief or guilt, a spouse struggling to make it through each day and not knowing how to help or even small children who are confused by the change in their parent or sibling, the impact of mental illness on families shouldn't be downplayed.
Although mental health issues can have devastating effects on every member of the family, there is hope. Many mental illnesses are very treatable. And as families get the information they need as well as outside support to cope with the disease's effects, healing can come. However, families should first confront how their loved one's mental illness has negatively impacted family dynamics. By doing so, they can grieve and move forward with realistic expectations.
How Mental Health Issues Can Impact Families
From the smallest member of the family to the oldest, when one person in the family unit struggles with mental illness, everyone feels its effects. Those most affected are usually the parents, spouse or significant other and children of those with the disorder, but other members of the family can feel its impact as well. There are quite a few different ways an individual's mental health issues can hit families, including:
- Emotional Upheaval: After a loved one is diagnosed, a variety of powerful emotions can run through every member of the family. Parents often experience guilt, wondering if their child's illness is due to bad parenting. Siblings and children often struggle with understanding how to help. Anger is another reaction family members may experience, as mental illness can make family members feel out of control and powerless to help.
- Stress: As members of the family feel the impact of their loved one's mental illness, they might begin to worry as to when the symptoms will strike next or what the future holds for their affected loved one. This often causes extreme stress and can even make them feel like they have to walk on eggshells constantly.
- Confusion: Children especially experience quite a bit of confusion when they witness changes to the behavior of their parent or loved one brought about by mental illness. If they don't understand the cause of this change, their confusion can give way to fear or even anger. It's essential that they have an outlet to express how they feel.
- Feelings of Uncertainty: Mental health issues can erode a family's sense of well-being as they watch their loved one suffer from their illness. Because of this and the resulting uncertainty of the situation, family members might begin distancing themselves from their loved one or even experiencing negative physical and emotional symptoms themselves.
- Feelings of Neglect: When a family cares for a loved one with a mental health issue, other members of the family like small children or siblings sometimes end up feeling neglected. Because the care of the individual with the illness becomes all-consuming, these other family members are left feeling that their needs or feelings don't matter.
- Grief: As the full implications of a loved one's mental illness become apparent, family members may experience a deep sense of grief. Most hope that once their loved one gets help, they'll be able to return to life as it was before, but they are worried about the changes to come.
Seeking Professional Help Can Benefit Everyone
Loving and caring for someone with a mental illness can take a huge toll on a family. That's why it's essential to find support. If you're feeling the impact of your loved one's mental health issue, it's okay to ask for help. There are many treatment programs available that not only address issues for those diagnosed with a mental illness, but that also include family therapy components.
Brookhaven Retreat is a women-only inpatient mental health treatment center that addresses the impact mental health issues can have both on the individual and on their families. Our programs offer a family therapy component that allows individuals diagnosed with a mental illness to work with their loved ones to overcome the impact their symptoms have had on everyone involved in their lives, especially those closest to them. If you would like to learn more, please contact us today.