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.
- Learn about my illness. This is an illness of the brain and body, just like any other disease. It affects my ability to think, feel, and behave. Those effects may have been difficult for you to deal with. I’m sorry.
- 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.
- 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