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The impact of mental illness on families can be multidimensional and very severe, affecting everything from finances to emotional health. Some of the problems are based on practical issues that come up in day-to-day life, while others may be purely emotional. Mental illness also affects various family members differently based on their position in relation to the mentally ill person, so each person in a family may have a totally different set of problems. Dealing with the effects of mental illness on families can sometimes require therapy for everyone, allowing each person to learn coping methods for dealing with their specific problems.
Some of the practical impacts of mental illness on families can include financial problems and disruptions to daily life. Dealing with a family member who is mentally ill may require time that could be used on other things. For example, people may be forced to give up things they care about, or they may have to miss important meetings and appointments, which could hamper their careers. There is also often a lot of stress associated with caring for someone with mental illness, which can impact a person's health in the long run.
Other affects of mental illness on families are more emotional in nature. If a family member becomes mentally ill, loved ones may almost feel as though the person has died because he or she may seem so different. This can lead to constant depression, which can seep into other parts of a person’s life. It’s also common for people to suffer social difficulties when they have mentally ill family members. It's not uncommon for people to feel embarrassment when other people see how their mentally ill family member behaves or hear what they might say.
The affects of mental illness on families can be very different, depending on the kind of family relationships involved. For example, children with mentally ill parents have an entirely different set of problems than parents with mentally ill children. A child may not receive proper care if he or she has a mentally ill parent, while parents may fear that outsiders will think a child’s mental illness is somehow their fault, which may lead to feelings of guilt. Sometimes these feelings may actually cause parents to avoid taking their child to get proper care. Every family relationship leads to a slightly different dynamic, and in a large family, there may be many different issues presented.
Part of the devastation is the inevitable cycle: get treatment, get better, go home, think they're cured, stop taking meds, become psychotic, go back to treatment... and on and on. Families may have periods when things are all right, but in many cases, the person with the mental illness declines again and the cycle starts over.
The problem, of course, is that most medication treats the symptoms. The underlying cause is usually not curable. There's no way to re-wire the brain or cause it to start making its own chemicals to resolve the imbalance.
One of the worst things is when well-meaning friends start peppering the family with all sorts of "remedies," little realizing the families have probably already
tried these out of desperation and have come to the conclusion that, while herbs and crystals may be useful for other disorders, for mental illnesses, they do precisely nothing.
Therapy is frequently most useful for the family of the sufferer. They need to learn coping mechanisms and how and when to stop intervening. It's a fine line to walk.