Living With the Mentally Ill

"All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own fashion."
("Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy)

Mental illness in a family may be passed down from one generation to another. It can be hereditary or acquired. It may come from stress, brain injury, traumatic experiences, child abuse, substance abuse, a chemical exposure, organic causes or a family coping pattern. Statistics show that one in every four people has a short or long term mental or emotional illness. This creates confusion and often pandemonium in a family.

In the old days, people were locked in attics or basements or thrown into a sanitarium never to be heard from again. Would it surprise you to learn that in many areas this still happens with many variations? Mental illness is hard to pinpoint. Depression, anxiety, bi-polar illness, personality disorders often have to go on a long time before the person is willing to get help and this is also exacerbated by the family’s denial. Families often try to force the person to shape up using threats or bribery, or try to ignore the problem, or make excuses and plan life around the ill person’s behavior. The ill person may be self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or isolating from the rest of the family. They may appear hostile, lethargic or sad all the time, they may be suicidal. They are always self-absorbed. They might be cutting themselves or binging on food.

When there is a mentally ill person in the family the whole family might feel bad or crazy. There are feelings in the family of denial, guilt, embarrassment, distortion of reality, blame, fear and anger. How can the family be sure there is an illness? How is it to be dealt with? Couldn’t the person just get better on his/her own without all this confusion?  Maybe if we just ignore it then it will go away and is it really that bad anyway? Who can we go to for help?

There is an organization called NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.) They offer a free 12-week course for family members of the mentally ill. Those family members who are at the end of their rope or who want the best for their loved one would be well advised to dial 211 the SD help line or go online to  Or if it is an alcohol or drug problem call AA or Al-Anon. Put aside your fear of being disloyal, be willing to reach out and when you do you will find willing supportive arms waiting for you.

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Please Keep Your Mind Where Your Butt Is!

No Cell Phones While DrivingHe was sitting at a stop sign. He looked to be about 16 or 17 years old. He had the ear bud from an iPod in one ear and was holding a cell phone up to the other ear and bouncing his head in time to some unseen cadence.

I wanted to get out of my car and tell him to pay attention to his driving. I wanted to tell him his life is way too valuable to be taking such chances with it. I wanted to tell him sometimes people get hurt, even killed. I wanted to tell him that whoever was on the other end of the cell phone could wait until he parked his car. I wanted to tell him that, believe it or not, we used to have to wait until we were in a building or a phone booth and give telephone calls our undivided attention.

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Feelings and Suicidal Behavior

Feelings are not Right and Wrong. Feelings just are.

People in pain are often ashamed of their feelings and will attempt to deny or hide them. Assure them you can handle their feelings and whatever the feelings are they are ok. Tell them feelings just are and everyone has them.

It is important to be open to expressions of pain and remain calm no matter what is said. Do not react or show shock to expressions of hopelessness or anger, or foul language.

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Codependency and the Fallout From It

Being raised in a family where there is addiction, mental illness, or any problems that cause an inordinate amount of stress, creates codependency and children learn:

  • That you are not important enough to be cared for properly.
  • That it is better to lie and steal than to say something adults do not want to hear.
  • That they could be severely punished if they are caught lying and stealing.
  • That adults are not to be trusted.
  • That it is not okay to care about yourself.
  • That you are expected to take care of yourself.
  • That other people's problems are more important than yours.
  • That the only way to get your needs met is to learn how to be manipulative and seductive.
  • That the only way to get approval and attention is by listening to other people’s problems and trying to solve them for them.
  • That if you have a problem or are in pain no one cares.
  • That accepting personal responsibility will only get you into trouble therefore it is best to blame someone or something else when things go wrong.
  • That it is safer to live a parent's dream than to have one of your own.
  • That you will feel lost, empty, and free floating much of the time causing you to feel different from other people.
  • That it is best to deny having feelings, neglect your own needs and develop a false persona.
  • That being helpless and victim-like will sometimes get you some sympathy, but the sympathy will never be based on the real problem.
  • That shame will be your constant companion and will hold you back from great accomplishments or cause you to over-work, over-produce and become compulsive about 'doing'.
  • That you will be a loner or accumulate followers who do not really know you.
  • That conflict is dangerous and therefore it is best to keep quiet and not stick-up for yourself.
  • That the only way to kill your pain or feel alive is to use alcohol, drugs, sex, work, religion or some other activity compulsively.
  • That perpetual anger colors every decision and action.
  • That as you grow older you will become cynical, intolerant, impetuous and controlling, or you will seek to go unnoticed and perform for others without complaint.
  • That you will feel like an outcast socially or become a social butterfly and neither will satisfy you.
  • That constant crisis is a way of life and without it you are bored.
  • That having been betrayed by the people who brought you into the world has set you up for a life-time of trusting the wrong people and listening to advice from inappropriate sources.
  • That you set up a grandiose way of thinking that says "I can do it all, be it all, and take care of others" and then develop self-hate when you can't "do it all, be it all, and take care of others".
  • That you will either idealize people places and things or negate them.
  • That the thing about you that no one knows or would ever guess is that you just want someone to take care of you.

This page may not be reproduced without express permission of the author.
© Evelyn Leite, MHR, LPC

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Just Do It - Part 3

Ultimately, we are our own worst critic and persecutor. To meet the challenge that fears present is a giant hurdle and requires a huge shift in thoughts and beliefs. Fear resides inside of self and behavior resides outside of self.

How many times have you been extremely afraid to do something and so put it off until it was too late? How many times have you faked illness, told a little white lie, and avoided doing things that made you feel fearful? Fear is like a monster that feeds on itself the more you put off doing something the bigger the monster grows. Have you ever considered yourself a loser?

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