Braving Mental Illness

By Jane Penvose

Most families remember the exact moment they realized a family member was mentally ill. The impact is overwhelming. Even when preceding months are unusually difficult, none of us are prepared for this truth. Many of us still feel the chill that traveled through us. Many of us awake sobbing, night after night. Some of us scream out loud in anguish: This can’t be happening. Not to me, not to my beautiful bright child, not to the spouse with whom I’ve shared so much, not to my funny, fun-loving sibling. A never-ending nightmare that just can’t be real.

We families who care are brave. We become less emotional and somewhat numb as time passes, but we continue to persevere. We deal with loved ones who are delusional and/or manic, and/or depressed. We deal with The System, in which some doctors might offer treatment plans and hope, in which many doctors avoid families and friends; in which some aides treat patients with respect, and too many don’t; in which some actually perceive patients with mental illnesses as “bad.”

We are haunted by specters of our loved ones in restraints, immobilized by medication. We fear our relations will become one of the many homeless mentally ill. We hurt as we watch our kin struggle to maintain dignity, and being treated with none. And those of us with children who have a severe emotional and/or behavioral problem live with the fear that we will lose custody of our child because there is not enough support within the system to help us keep our child at home.

We tend to become isolated as we deal with friends and relatives who do not understand, and are unsupportive at a time when understanding is crucial, a time when people most need to express fears and concerns, and learn about affects, effects and outcomes.

Mutual support groups help families and friends survive mental illness in their midst. Support groups provide information; they guide members through the very bewildering mental health and/or educational system into which they have been thrust; they advocate for better care and treatment. Contact your local Mental Health America for a group near you. Mutual support groups offer hope, always hope.

Perhaps most important, every member of a mutual support group learns that he or she is not alone. That statement may be overused, but it identifies a primary need in those who love someone who has a mental illness.
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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on April 06, 2009

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