NAMI-Yolo - a chapter of NAMI, the Nation's Voice on Mental Illness


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Coping Tips
for Siblings & Adult Children 
of Persons with Mental Illness

If you find it difficult to come to terms with your sibling's or parent's mental illness, you are not alone. Most siblings and adult children find that the onset of mental illness in a brother, sister, or parent is a tragic event that changes life in fundamental ways. The experience of strange, unpredictable behaviors in a loved one can be devastating, and anxiety can be high as you struggle with each episode of illness and worry about the future. While It seems impossible at first, most siblings and adult children find that over time they do gain the knowledge and skills to cope with mental illness effectively. They do have strengths they never knew they had, and they can meet situations they never anticipated. A good start while learning to cope is to learn as much as possible about mental illness by reading and talking with other families. NAMI has books, pamphlets, fact sheets, and tapes available about different illnesses, treatments, and issues you may have to deal with. You can also Join one of the 1,100 local NAMI groups throughout the nation. (For the location of a local AMI, call the NAMI Helpline, 1-800-950-NAMI.

The following are some things to remember that should help you as you learn to live with mental illness in your family.

1. You cannot cure a mental disorder for a parent or sibling. 

2. No one is to blame.

3. The mental illnesses are not on a continuum with mental health. 

4. Mental disorders affect more than the afflicted. 

5. Despite your best efforts, symptoms may get worse, or they may improve. 

6. If you feel extreme resentment, you are giving too much. 

7. It is as hard for the parent & sibling to accept the disorder as it is for other family members, 

8. Acceptance of the disorder by all concerned may be helpful, but it is not necessary.

9. A delusion is not amenable to reason, so it needs no discussion.

10. Separate the person from the disorder.

11. It is not OK for you to be neglected. You have emotional needs and wants, too.

12. The illness of a family member is nothing to be ashamed of. The reality is that you may encounter stigma from an apprehensive public.

13. You may have to revise your expectations.

14. You may have to renegotiate your emotional relationship.