Dear Family

Mental illness affects millions of people. Not only the individuals who have the conditions–but also their families.

It may be most difficult for the person with the disorder. But loved ones are challenged too, as they desperately try to help. Dealing with their relative’s diagnosis and treatment can be a long and painful journey.

Family members are sad, confused, and scared. They feel helpless watching their spouse, child, or parent struggle with the debilitating symptoms. Mood swings, depression, mania, or thoughts of suicide. Severe anxiety, obsessive compulsions, phobias, or anger.

Life will never be the same as before the disease erupted.

I know, as my mom had major depression and anorexia. I had panic disorder. My daughter had panic attacks.

It may seem impossible to help a loved one who is in denial about having a mental health condition. It can be exhausting when that person won’t accept medical help or refuses to take medication.

Family members can feel like they’re swimming in a turbulent ocean. The rip tides and undertows are strong and can’t be manipulated. The currents move them to places they don’t want to go. The only way to stay safe is to get out of the water. To accept that it cannot be controlled.

But acceptance is a difficult place to reach.

I’m taking a class offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. “Family to Family” is a twelve-week course that provides education and support to families affected by mental illness.

I was moved by this letter, written and provided by NAMI. It has been edited for length.

My Dear Family:

This letter is a plea for your compassion, understanding, and patience. We have all just come through an episode of my mental illness. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve done the best I know how and so have you. For this, I thank you.

I’m exhausted. Maybe I look all right to you, but inside I’m wounded. Even the least stress, the least effort, is overwhelming. I need to sleep a lot and not do much at all. This may go on for quite some time.

It may be hard for you to see me this way. You may feel it’s your duty to help me “snap out of it.” Please be gentle. Let me heal.

There are three things I’d appreciate you do for me.

  1. Learn about my illness. This is an illness of the brain and body, just like any other disease. ItΒ  affects my ability to think, feel, and behave. Those effects may have been difficult for you to deal with. I’m sorry.Β 
  2. Help me find effective treatment. This takes patience and persistence. In my present state, I may not have the energy to follow through. I need you to advocate for me, until we find people and medications that help.
  3. Listen with an open heart and mind. Don’t try to advise me. Just listen while I work this out for myself. Your trust and understanding during this time will help me feel confident enough to decide when I’m able to step back into life activities.

Thank you for your support and compassion. It will make my path to recovery more smooth and sure.

With thanks and hope,

Your Loved One



First image courtesy of here

Letter courtesy of Sita Diehl, co-author, Bridges Consumer Peer Education Course, NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program 2013

Second image courtesy of here





41 thoughts on “Dear Family

  1. Having been through severe OCD with my son I can attest that nothing (well, maybe proper treatment) is more helpful to the person struggling with a brain disorder than the love and support of family. While we family members might never understand what our loved ones are going through, we can still acknowledge it is very real, and painful, and be there for our loved ones as they do the best they can to fight their illness. After all, isn’t that what family is for? Great post, great letter.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much. You said it beautifully… there is nothing like having the love and support from family. People to feel completely safe with, knowing they will be there, means everything. I appreciate your insight!


    • This is a lovely comment and i had to tell you so. I have OCD and you’re correct…the love and support from friends and family means the world to me. I don’t need them to truly understand my diagnosis, I just need them to be supportive and respectful. Those that are both are the people I feel safe around. There are far too many people who don’t try and it makes me so grateful for those that do. Take care~

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this! Even though I suffer from a mental illness myself, I still want to be a “fixer” for my friends and family! Even though all *I* want is someone to acknowledge me and hear me when I am hurting, it is hard to watch someone else struggle and remember, “Just listen! Just be present!”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is such a stigma surrounding mental illness and yet it’s on the increase. I watched on the news yesterday how here in the UK there has been a massive increase in 16-24 year old girls suffering from depression, anxiety, self harming etc. and the experts believe it’s linked to the pressure of the social media culture which I could recognise may be correct. For me, I went through a period of suffering panic attacks and following a course of hypnotherapy, I massively improved and then continued to build my own knowledge and skills in this area to qualify in hypnotherapy and later in Neuro Liguistic Programming which uses some fabulous strategies to make transformational change. This approach won’t work for everyone but does help a lot of people which is amazing when it does! Thank you for raising awareness of this very important subject.. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Such an important issue you’ve written about Jenny. Having gone through panic attacks myself and after years of helping my son cope with his anxieties I know first hand how debilitating it can be. But also how important it just is to listen and be there for those who are going through hard times.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When I had panic attacks (10 years ago), it seemed that I was the only one affected. In India people did not know the meaning of panic attacks. My In-Laws treated me like a “mental person”. Which was very painful, since I needed love and support to come out of this.
    I went on medication, but the attacks came back every week.
    My husband and son were the only people who later on helped me to recover from panic attacks. First they also acted as if, I was Wierd. Later when the Doc explained things to them and they read stuff about it, they helped me, by immediately soothing me when I got crying and then putting the zapiz under my tongue and giving me water, put me to bed, with the ac on and stroke my hair or tap my back, as if I was a Kid, till I fell asleep with the medication.
    Slowly and Slowly, the panic attacks stopped Forever. Now I am free from them.
    Yes, it is very important for the Family and Friends to know about this sickness and how to deal with the patients. A LITTLE LOVE AND CARE CAN WORK MIRACLES.


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  7. This is such an important message. Thank you for sharing it. People with mental illness often do not feel safe to publicly share their struggles. They deserve understanding and support without judgement.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. My family struggles with high levels of anxiety and depression. for the longest time I struggled and fought against my depression and own anxiety. I am a psychology major and going into being a marriage family therapist so when I finally accepted myself and what I was feeling, I was able to accept my family and their own struggles. It has made us such a stronger family and gives us something to talk about and help each other with.

    Thank you for your post!
    Carlee –

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carlee, thanks so much for sharing this part of your journey. I understand how it helps when other family members really, truly understand what you’re going through. Because my mom had major depression and mental health issues, she was so easy to talk to about my panic disorder and my daughter’s. I always felt safe with her because she didn’t judge, and knew how it felt. That’s great you’re a psychology major. You’re going to be a wonderful therapist, with your lived experience. Thanks for visiting here, and for the follow. I look forward to reading your posts and following your blog! Take care, Jenny

      Liked by 1 person

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