A mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2014), is ‘a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis” (para. 1) There are many different illnesses and each has its own side effects. Each persons experience could also be different, although the same disease may be present. What stays the same, however, is the impact that mood disorders have on the family. Left untreated, mood disorders have a negative effect on the entire family unit causing the members stress, anger, and guilt.
They are typically the most affected people in the lives of those with mental illnesses. While there has been much research done on mental illness itself, there is a lack in education for the family in terms of the affects of mental illness on the family. In their peer reviewed journal, Mental illness: A Guide for the Family, Edith Stern and Shari Hamilton (1942) say, “In mental illness especially, the attitudes of relatives play a large part for better or for worse. Therefore your patient’s chances for recovery will be markedly increased if you look upon him as ill instead of well but wicked” (p. ).
Stern and Hamilton wrote this in 1946, however the same principles apply today. The patient needs to be looked upon as if they ill, such as a physical illness, versus evil and manipulative. Others have followed up and done research to prove that the family plays a large role in the recovery from a mental illness. Research like this; also show that these mental illnesses can cause other problems down the road for the family. That is why it is crucial that these problems are addressed and simply not ignored.
It is also worth noting that while there may be family education, families can often be in denial of the present state so they never receive the assistance and help. Family therapy can make all the difference in recovery for the patient and peace of mind for the other family members. Many times, therapy is simply a time for the family members to gain a better understanding of the disease. In these cases, ignorance is not bliss and the sooner one finds out what the disease is, the sooner they can get the help their family member needs. There is no shame in getting help for your family.
Any negatives one might find are heavily outweighed by the benefits of family counseling or simple family education on the topic. As one can understand, this is a tumultuous time for the family. Most families are ill prepared in dealing with the initial stages of a mental illness. As life is already full of stresses, having a family member with a mood disorder can add extra weight to the already heavy load. There is no denying that prolonged stress is bad for the body and health. Ann Pietrangelo, in an article for Healthline states, “Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and can affect your overall health and wellbeing” (para. ).
In her study, Pietrangelo goes on to explain that chronic or prolonged stress puts all of your body systems at risk for other problems. Stress affects the immune system, the reproductive system, the muscular system, the digestive system, the respiratory and cardiovascular system, and ones central nervous and endocrine system. Often times, chronic stress can lead to a mental illness. Reports like these are why experts suggest going to family therapy and creating diversions that relieve the stress. Taking practical steps to maintain a healthy outlook can reduce or even prevent many of the side effects of chronic stress.
On top of the many other issues one faces in their day-to-day life, the stress from having a family member with a mental illness can make problems worse. There is a new level of stress added because depending on the illness; one never knows what the patient will do next. Life begins to be lived in a constant state of anxiety over the actions of one person. One becomes so wrapped up in caring for that family member, they often forget about themselves and their peace of mind is at risk. In a study by Natasha Tracy (2012), she explains, “the family members of those suffering from a mental illness are at a higher risk for depression” (para. ). It is important for family members to realize the risk that they are in by being in this situation. The depression can set in because of the stress or any number of other emotions and they not even realize it. Aside from caring for the patient, financial issues also begin to take their toll. Families dealing with these issues also have financial hardships due to all the medical bills from doctors appointments to hospitalization. The added stress that comes with a mental illness places strain on the relationships within the family. Communication is lost and anger becomes the next response.
M. Sherman developer of the S. A. F. E Program for veterans with mental illnesses (2008), says, “creating a low stress home environment can help minimize crises. ” (p. 42). By crises she means relapses, including fits of hysteria and suicidal ideations. When the home and its members are in a peaceful state, everything becomes calmer. When circumstances are not optimal, the cycle of stress simply perpetuates the negative emotions and feelings that come with having a mental illness. The mental disorder is a trauma to the unaffected so the home environment should be a place where everyone feels safe to be alone or express how he or she is feeling.
Creating a safe place allows for dialogue that can eliminate many of the ill feelings towards this subject. Although each case is different in its severity, the responsibility of care usually falls on one person. Because of gender stereotypes, the women of the home are usually left to be the caregivers for the mentally ill causing resentment and anger. There is bitterness and anger among those who do not even care for the patient. There are many different dynamics and scenarios. For example, one child may feel like they are not important anymore because they do not have a serious illness.
The whole family can feel neglected from the caregiver and become angry with both the patient and the caregiver. Janardhana,, Naidu, Raghunandan, Saraswathi, & Seshan (2015), researchers from the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine suggest that, “The family provides considerable amount of care for their mentally ill relatives even though they experience burden, families view caregiving as their sole responsibility toward their offspring with mental illness” (para. 1). Being the caregiver to ones mentally ill relative is a difficult task.
Many times, they experience all of the negative effects more than any of the others in the family. For example, if the caregiver is acting as psychologist as well, when the patient has a relapse, the caregiver more often than not will feel like they have not done something properly. They will feel immense guilt from the relapse. They might also feel more stressed out because they thought the family member of getting better. Finally, they can definitely feel angry with their patient and be disappointed because they may still not understand all the mechanics of having a mental illness.
Often times when patients refuse to seek treatment, the family assumes the responsibility of the psychologist as well. The outcomes are rarely productive when the family acts as the therapist. It is also imperative to realize that despite one’s efforts, the symptoms may still get worse. The “healthy” children may feel added frustration at the added responsibility. Research from Harriet Lefley for the American Psychological Association insists that regardless of diagnosis, there are patterns of remission and exacerbation of the issue bringing along with it hope and failure once the patient does not meet the expectations.
Without proper education and realization, there will always be disappointment on both sides (p. 1). Family members experience the loss of someone they once knew. They must learn to adjust to the new reality of their present situation. This can be very hard, especially when the mental illness displays itself later on in life. The interactions become different in order to not set off a trigger for the ill. Essentially the family must walk on eggshells to accommodate the present situation. In a way, each person must grieve his or her loss.
Anger, is a part of the grieving process so it is normal and acceptable to experience his emotion. The problem sets in when the anger perpetuates through time and is not dealt with in a constructive manner. This is a difficult time for the family, however if they come together situations like mental illnesses can make families stronger. The most important thing for families to realize is that mental illnesses are illnesses like any others. The acceptance of this notion is beneficial to the patient and for the family’s peace of mind. There is guilt in having a family member with a mental illness because there is still prejudice and a stigma attached to the topic.
The guilt affects everyone. People with the mood disorders can sense the ill feelings so they themselves begin to feel even worse. Also, families feel like the illness is their fault. There does not need to be any guilt. In her study, Traci Pedersen (2013) claims studies have shown that five major mental illnesses, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia, and autism can be traced to the same inherited genetic variations (para. 1). When people seemingly have a good life, it is hard to understand why or how a mood disorder could happen to them.
In cases where the child has a mental illness, often the parents will feel like they have not done their duty although this was not something they could control. Parents are to care for and protect their children, but so often they see their child suffering in ways they do not know how to help. Or, when they believe they have helped, the symptoms do not necessarily get better. It is crucial that people realize that recovery from a mental illness takes time. No matter how at bay the symptoms may be, a relapse can happen at any time.