Impacts on the family
Imagine a sun where each family member is represented by a ray and the family itself is in the centre. When mental illness occurs, sometimes the person with the illness becomes the centre of focus and the illness takes over. Eventually, the illness becomes the family’s driving force and, in this sense, family life is weakened.
It is important to make the family unit the centre of our attention again. This does not mean denying the illness or neglecting the person, but rather refocusing the person on their true role: that of a full-fledged family member with rights and responsibilities. In order to survive, a family must adapt to situations and not allow them to overwhelm it to the point of forgetting its purpose.
Realizing your potential
We would like to start off by talking to you about the distress that family members experience and each person’s potential to turn it into something positive. While this may seem difficult to believe, you’ll find that it’s within reach for everyone.
For a number of years now, it has been trendy to talk about empowerment, ownership or recovery for people with mental illness. But when it comes to family members, these concepts are difficult to apply. No matter how much the family wants to help, only the person with the illness has the power to make decisions about their treatment and their life. It is therefore important for family members to learn to recognize their strengths and limitations, which will help them identify their potential to adapt to changes brought about by the announcement of a loved one’s mental illness.
This is all the more important as this new reality will change family relationships. Likewise, it is essential for everyone to see that these changes can be perceived in a positive way. It is a major challenge, but it is possible, and perhaps even essential, to ensuring the family’s survival and preserving the support network for each member of the family unit, not just the person with the illness.
Every human being is unique, and so is every family. Relationships between family members are the product of specific interactions between each of the members and these relationships evolve over time. Several factors influence the course of family relationships, including time, the behaviour of individual members, aging and those close to the family. A family is a dynamic system that is always in motion.
When mental illness occurs, families grieve in similar ways. Diagnosis of a mental illness can sometimes come as a relief if it confirms a family’s suspicions or it can come as a complete surprise; but either way, it is never good news. A thousand scenarios play out in our minds and the future seems very dark.
Other families may live with doubt and uncertainty for several years when no diagnosis is given to the anxiety their loved one is experiencing. One thing is certain, everyone is worried, and the family unit feels a strong sense of helplessness. The next step is to determine how each member will come to terms with this distress and transform it in order to maintain balance within their family unit. Human beings are resilient, meaning they can adapt to difficult situations and learn important life lessons from them.
Things to remember
A family is a living organism made up of the following characteristics :
- Totality. A family is a system that is more than the sum of its parts. Changes experienced by one member lead to changes for all members and the system as a whole.
- Feedback. A family is a system that operates according to circular causality rather than linear causality. A family adapts gradually to changes and has both strong and weak moments.
- Equifinality. The system moves toward the same stable final state, despite fluctuations that appear over time. Families seek stability and will build their future on the positive experiences of the past.