Family and Mental Health

Family are important to many people and no matter how close of a family you may have, opening up about mental health problems can still be very difficult.

When you love someone, it can be hard to tell them that you are suffering mentally, because you do not know how they are going to react. You do not want to upset or worry your loved ones, so finding the right words to say can be difficult.

It is important to remember that people can react negatively at first, they may be in denial, they may blame themselves, or they may be confused. If you are opening up about your mental health, try to be as honest as you can be, explain to them what symptoms you possess, explain how having a mental health problem feels to you and how it can impact on your day-to-day life. Tell them that it is not their fault, that mental health problems can affect 1 in 4 people no matter what their life is like. Reassure them, tell them that you are okay, but that you may need their support when things get tough… help them to help you!

Mental health problems affect millions (if not billions!) of families across the world. Many families have had to adjust in order to support their loved one’s mental health conditions. It is important to know that mental health conditions do not only affect the individual, but also those around them.

For example, it can be hard for parents to see their children suffering from mental health conditions, they may not understand the illness and therefore not know how to help their loved one, which can be frustrating and sometimes can put strain on the relationship between them.

One lovely lady was kind enough to share her personal experiences of mental health within her family with me for this article. Here is what she had to say:

Even from a very young age I’ve been aware of mental health problems as my grandmother was schizophrenic. She was diagnosed in her 20’s and so my mother was born into it and grew up with it. Mental health wasn’t really understood in the 50’s and 60’s and so my gran was treated awfully. Electric shock treatments and medication to subdue her. My mother was in and out of care homes as a child when she couldn’t cope (her father died when she was 11). But my mother was always proud of her Mum. I very clearly remember her saying that my gran us d to argue back with the voices and not carry out what they told her to do and that made my mum proud. I in turn was proud of her and never saw schizophrenia as a bad thing, just something different. Sadly the medical profession didn’t see it the same way and when she died a few years ago her file had said she was dangerous and so wasn’t getting her medication or even fluids in hospital even though she was never violent. They also put a DNR on her without family permission. I believe his was due to the lack of understanding of her condition. I remember at her funeral though fighting back the giggles with my cousins because the victor clearly didn’t know her and was saying things like ‘she would have helped her grandchildren with homework’ when in reality she didn’t even recognise us half the time!!

My brother had OCD. It’s quite a mild case but obvious to his closet family and friends. As a child he always took things to heart and overdid them, it was a while before we realised what he was doing. He would(and still does) wash his hands over and over then go back and wash his fingertips because ‘he’d forgotten them’. He then moisturises his hand obsessively rubbing cream in quite violently. He hasn’t admitted he has a problem and every time one of us brings it up he gets so defensive we can’t actually talk to him. It thankfully doesn’t impact too majorly on his life like some sufferers do. He’s clearly an anxious person and copes but doing these obsessive things. Nose blowing is another obsessive symptom he has. The funny thing is, his house is a mess. People think those with OCD are super clean and neat, some are but it’s a common misconception and something that drives me mad. Too many people joke about having OCD because they like things neat and tidy. They don’t understand that it means they have obsessive negative thoughts and the rituals are their way of coping. I get very defensive when people joke about OCD!!

My father suffers from anxiety and occasionally depression. I suspect he is also on the autistic spectrum too, although it has been suggested it’s narcism. He’s been difficult to cope with growing up. None of his ‘problems’ were realised or thought of until he was retired, we just thought he was a very very angry nasty man. In hindsight he was taking his anger out on us because he was anxious and scared. It’s a shame it wasn’t realised sooner as I still have a difficult relationship with him due to the damage already done in my childhood. He is better now because we have more understanding but he does sink into depressions and get angry and pick fights out of the blue. He’s never been able to ‘go with the flow’ and takes things very literally which is the complete opposite of me. However having recently suffered from anxiety myself (after my first then second miscarriages) I have a little more understanding about he need for control.

I found the story of the lady’s grandmother very interesting as it shows what it was like to have mental health problems in the 50’s/60’s era. It also shows the impact that mental health problems can have on families, how children can end up in the care system due to the severity of such illnesses. I think this particular story is quite heartwarming, especially when she said that her mother was proud of her grandmother, despite the fact that she was put into care various times. It was nice to see that her mother understood why she had to go into care and she did not by any means blame her parents for that. It is a shame to hear how people with mental health problems were treated back in those days… despite doing my research and reading facts about it, hearing a personal story about it really hits hard. I was particularly shocked to read that a DNR was put on the grandmothers file without the permission of the family. Heartbreaking to say the least.

As for the story about her brother, I think it is very important to stress the misconception of what people believe about OCD. It is more than being neat and tidy, there are many different types of obsessions that can occur when someone has OCD and they can differ in severity. It is important that people realise how insensitive and disrespectful it is to joke about OCD or any other mental health problem… people would not joke about physical health problems, so why joke about mental health?

The last story that was shared with me about the lady’s father, really pulled at my heart strings. Despite her family being  loving, caring and understanding, her fathers mental health problems have took their toll on his relationship with his loved ones. It is a shame that they were only detected at a later stage in his life as if they were spotted sooner, things may have turned out differently. You can see by reading the stories above that the family are all very caring of one another, so it must be hard for them to see the father suffering in such a way, especially when he becomes angry, taking it out on those around him. They know now that it is not his fault, it is a shame that it took a first person experience to aid that understanding.

Mental health conditions are serious and should be approached as such. If a person who is suffering from a mental health condition is given the right level of support and guidance as well as medication (if necessary), then they are much more likely to be able to cope with their condition. Having people they can trust and confide in when they are struggling can really take the weight off of their shoulders… but it is also important not to force them to talk about it if they are not ready to do so.

Thank you to the lovely lady who shared her personal experiences with me and the rest of my wonderful readers, talking about mental health can help to break down the stigma which surrounds it. 


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