Coping with Mental Illness in the Family

An outline of the struggles family members endure when there's a loved one with mental illness in the family.

Many of the visitors to the website will understand the difficulties inherent in mental illness, whether they, themselves, are sufferers of a psychiatric disorder, or whether they are family members or close friends of those with a mental disorder. For family members or friends, the difficulties experienced by them can be sometimes as troubling as, or even more troubling than those suffered by the patient.

Many family members have talked to me about their own concerns and problems as a result of their position vis-a-vis the patient. They tell me of several such difficulties. Often these involve emotional, financial or social concerns, in addition to their psychological concern regarding their loved ones.

What is Going On?

Initially, there is the problem of not understanding what is happening to or what is "wrong with" their loved one. Is it an illness, a cry for help, an overdramatization of a life situation, or is it something else that is difficult or impossible to understand? Often, especially at the outset, the cause of the symptoms or unusual behavior or emotions is not clear - either to the patient or to the loved ones.

Once a diagnosis is made, there often is the problem of getting the patient to accept the fact that they have a mental illness, or to accept treatment for it. This can be especially traumatic for family members when the patient refuses to participate in psychiatric treatment, or to even accept the fact that they have a mental illness.

In the case of the patient with, for example, bipolar disorder, it is sometimes traumatic when they begin to become manic, or to "get high." In this situation, they often discontinue taking their bipolar medication, and begin to enjoy the "high" feelings, leaving family members to worry about their loved one's future well-being.

Stigma, Financial Troubles That Come with Mental Illness

Unfortunately, there is still stigma associated with mental illness and often the family members are "embarrassed" to tell their friends or other family members that their relative is suffering from a "mental problem." On previous HealthyPlace TV Shows, we talked about the burden a family member's suicide can cause the others in the family; especially the parent of a child who commits suicide.

Then there is the problem caused by the financial strain on a family. The costs of mental health treatment for their loved one can be enormous. I have seen family finances devastated by the "non-insurance covered costs" that fall on the shoulders of the family.

In addition to the problems mentioned in this article, there are many other difficulties faced by the family members of someone with a mental illness. We will explore many of these difficulties Tuesday night on our HealthyPlace TV show on Mental Illness in the Family.

Watch HealthyPlace TV Show on "Mental Illness in the Family"

Join us this Tuesday, November 24. You can watch the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show live (5:30p PT, 7:30 CT, 8:30 ET) and on-demand on our website.

Dr. Harry Croft is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist and Medical Director of Dr. Croft is also the co-host of the HealthyPlace TV Show.

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~ other mental health articles by Dr. Croft

APA Reference
(2009, September 21). Coping with Mental Illness in the Family, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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