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Dealing with Mental Illness in your family

Updated on February 1, 2011

The 'Mr. Smith's' of old are long gone

Left unchecked, Mental illness can wreak havoc on the lives of those who love and are loved by the mentally ill person.  There are varying degrees of mental illness, it’s not like the days of old when children whispered to each other “I dare you to go up and knock on old Mr. Smith’s door!”   “He’s crazy” or “He’ll throw tomatoes at you if you walk through his yard”.

Mental illness surrounds us.  It seems to be coming in epidemic proportions.  Maybe it’s always been here, maybe it’s something in the water.  Maybe it’s caused by the preservatives added into our foods.  Maybe it’s caused by breathing.  What ever the cause it’s here.  Now we have to deal with it.  It cannot be swept under the rug and forgotten.  


The damage it causes?  Let’s look around at all the children.  Mentally ill people are having babies left and right, thinking that no one loves them.  They have the children thinking that a child will be the answer all their problems only to discover the problems are now doubled or tripled, depending on how many kids they have had.  Now those same children are subjected to the insanity of their mother.  The mother does not say or do the things that are correct for the healthy growth of the child, she mistreats, beats, cries, has tantrums which in turn causes issues for the said children.  This then perpetuates the illness yet another generation, and so on.


The mentally ill fathers of children are no better off.  They can have anger issues which involve beating the wife, and mother of his children.  In order to attempt to control his anger or because of it he drinks.  The alcohol-fueled anger then is pounded into family members.  The father then leaves, or the mother takes the children and leaves but by this time the damage is done.  Those people are now scarred mentally, possibly physically.   


The teenager who goes on a killing rampage at his school, ending what could have been great opportunities for those, had they survived. Maybe deciding his/her life is not worth living and ends it via suicide. Sometimes leaving a note, sometimes not. Whatever the reason it leaves those left behind in total confusion with a great sense of loss, and sadness all around.

Street people

The parent who can’t handle the damage they have done can quite possibly become the street people that are now seen living in card board boxes.  They are also called winos, druggies, homeless.  All because of mental illness.  Because things were seen and nothing done.

How things escalate

Sometimes what happens inadvertently is the mentally ill person is driven further into the depths of hell by comments from well meaning family members during arguments.  Telling the person “You’re sick, you need help!” or “Your crazy!” “Go take a pill!” “You’re NUTS!!” or any of the other comments used can send the person begging for help over the edge.

Without the benefit of counseling and sometimes medication, mental illness can escalate into the horrors we see in the News.  Mothers driving their children into lakes, or drowning them so they can meet God.  Fathers killing all their family members,  going on shooting rampages.  Children killing other children or their parents, grandparents.  

Those left in the wake of these disasters ask the questions “Why?”  The thoughts may be inside ‘I knew they were a little crazy, but I didn’t think it would this far” Or “I never knew”. 

Learn to see the signs

Learn to see the signs. The signs of the mentally ill person are there, sometimes we just have to step outside of our little world to see them. Some are big, some are small. But usually they are there long before any ‘news worthy’ damages occur. For the most part the mentally ill person will live their entire life without anything drastic happening. But the lives of those around them will be affected, always.

In adults:
Confused thinking
Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
Feelings of extreme highs and lows
Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
Social withdrawal
Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
Strong feelings of anger
Delusions or hallucinations
Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
Suicidal thoughts
Denial of obvious problems
Numerous unexplained physical ailments
Substance abuse

In older children and pre-adolescents:
Substance abuse
Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
Excessive complaints of physical ailments
Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism
Intense fear of weight gain
Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
Frequent outbursts of anger

In younger children:
Changes in school performance
Poor grades despite strong efforts
Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
Persistent nightmares
Persistent disobedience or aggression
Frequent temper tantrums 

What YOU can do

What can you do?  If you are a child of the mentally ill person try talking to them on their ’good’ days.  Convince them to seek help.  Go with them if at all possible.  Seek counseling yourself, to help you deal with their outbursts.  If you are still in school, talk to your school counselor they can help direct you to the correct person.  Try not to keep it a secret from the mentally ill person, this can only add to their delusions.  If you feel you are in danger, you must tell someone.  

If you are a parent of a mentally ill person, talk to the child’s doctor.  Seek counseling, don’t stop seeking help.  If one avenue is blocked, find another.  Never stop trying to help your child.  In the end it will be worth all the trouble.

If you are a spouse of a mentally ill person, talk to your spouse’s family (if you feel they will be of assistance).  Seek counseling for yourself.  Arrange a visit to a doctor to help you talk to your spouse.  In some states having a person ‘committed’ is allowed by spouses, if it comes to that, do it.  They will receive counseling during their stay at a mental health facility in which you will be required to participate.  

Where to go?

In most citys and counties throughout the United States there are local "Mental Health" facilities. Look in your yellow pages, blue pages, white pages. They should be abel to direct you in the correct direction of seeking help.

Why help?

Helping the mentally ill person will become an entire family issue, it was before with outbursts and difficulties. When help is sought, everyone receives assistance, no one is left out in the cold. You can eventually become a family again, with proper assistance. This is not to say that all mentally ill people can be ‘cured’. With proper counseling everyone will be able to accept and deal with the mentally ill that resides in your family.


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