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How diagnosis of a mental illness impacts family members

The diagnosis of a mental illness is unsettling for the entire family, and it is important that all members contribute to finding solutions. Each member will go through a period of mourning and, eventually, adapt to the family’s new reality. During the transition period, it is important that responsibility pertaining to the person with the illness be shared. Avoid blame and ensure that information about the illness and treatment is available to all concerned. A positive attitude and sharing of knowledge allows everyone involved to better understand the illness and the measures that need to be taken.

The adjustment process will be experienced differently by each family member, including the person with the illness. For most families, the journey will take several years and the transition to the next stage cannot be rushed. Each member will need to be open to new ideas and be respectful and patient with their own progress and that of others.

Several factors will influence how different family members react, including their age and relationship to the affected person and the severity of the illness. For example, older parents of an adult with a stabilized mental illness may be less involved in their daily life than the parents of a young adult at the beginning of the illness. It is sometimes difficult to maintain a reciprocal relationship with a person affected by mental illness, and this loss can lead some family members to abandon the relationship altogether.

The instability and cyclical nature of some illnesses also contribute to a decline in the presence of others. A study on families found that their psychological distress caused by the mental illness is three times higher than in the general population. So be careful and make sure you are well equipped to deal with problems.

Family life and mental illness

The diagnosis of a mental illness is unsettling for all members of a family. Know that this is normal. Following this type of diagnosis, families go through a period of adaptation and the various stages of transition are often difficult to live through.
It is important to remember that the family is a whole and the behaviour of each member affects the other members, so the news of a loved one’s mental illness will affect everyone. Each person in the family will react differently. It is natural for parents to feel guilty, siblings to wonder about their heredity and partners to worry about the new responsibilities they will have to take on.

All concerns are legitimate and will eventually need to be addressed. The important thing is to not rush the process or try to look for all the answers at once. Like you, your loved one is also changing along with their illness, and it is impossible to predict everyone’s needs for the future.

Things to remember

The adaptation process has three stages: protest or denial, pain and reorganization.

This process is not linear, it spirals and usually extends over several years. Each relapse by the person with the mental illness reactivates the process, but each relapse also reveals new factors that help shorten it.

Source: FFAPAMM. La vision familiale.

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