Coming to Terms with Mental Illness: Family and Friends

On the Outside Looking In

Mental illness is no longer a hush-hush secret to be stowed away in the closet--along with the suffering family member or friend who can't behave as society prefers and expects. Even so, the stigma associated with mental illness is still an unfortunate fact of life. The public perception of mental illness affects the speed with which we acknowledge the problem and begin to seek help and support. Those of us who are on the outside looking in at a friend or family member with mental illness may want to extend assistance, but don't know how or are hesitant to make the offer. Consider this a primer on the subject of recognition, acceptance, and support of those on the periphery of someone else's mental illness.

Knowledge is Power

The best place to start on your road to understanding is to read all the material you can get your hands on regarding the mental illness in question. Knowledge is power.  Ask your family physician for local resources for such material, and use your local public library to find books to aid in your quest for knowledge. Hit the phone book to find listings for support groups and organizations that can help. More tips:

You can't cure the mental disorder of a parent, sibling, or friend

Don't assign blame for mental illness

It isn't only the patient who is affected by mental illness

You are not responsible for the worsening or improvement of your loved one's symptoms

If you feel a lot of resentment, you need to do less

You may not be the only loved one who finds this situation difficult to bear

It's helpful but not necessary for all concerned to cultivate acceptance of the disorder

Delusions aren't real so don't waste time discussing them

Remember to view the person and the disorder as separate entities

Your needs and wants come first--there's no excuse for self-neglect

There is no shame in mental illness but you will likely encounter prejudice and negative public perceptions

It might be necessary to reconsider your expectations of the loved one with a mental disorder

Give praise wherever and whenever possible to all concerned

Understanding brings compassion

It is your right to ensure your personal safety

Share the burden with others who care

Remember that you are a relative--not a caseworker

Set clear boundaries

Through the act of furthering your understanding, awareness, and capacity to love, you become less judgmental and self-centered, a fuller and better person. 

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