When Mental Illness Enters The Family

With a link to my TEDx talk, with its four messages for families.

Posted Jan 17, 2015

When Mental Illness Enters The Family

Lloyd I. Sederer, MD

Families are often the first to notice when a child, spouse, sibling or parent begins to be different from the person they have known. They see a loved one isolates him(or her)self from family and friends; show persistent changes in sleep, eating and hygiene; behave oddly, in ways that suggest their thinking is off, maybe acting as if there is danger lurking or that they are hearing or seeing things others are not; be moody, irritable or intolerant of the slightest of questions or statements; or use or abuse alcohol and drugs.

When mental illness enters a family they soon face two types of problems: The first is how to understand and navigate a broken, confusing and too often exasperating mental health system. The second is to find ways they can help a love one who – because of guilt, shame or illness – won’t help themselves.

These are questions that can be – and must be answered – if families are to do what they want more than anything, namely to help their loved one get the care that will make a difference in their lives and that of their families. These are problems that have solutions.

Because more than one in five adults and adolescents are effected by a serious mental illness annually in this country, compromising daily functioning and relationships, few families are spared. And families are often the greatest resource and source of support an ill person can have, whatever persistent illness they suffer – including mental illnesses.

I have four messages for families:

FIRST - Don’t go it alone. There are people and places to turn to.

SECOND - Don’t get into fights. There are alternatives that work better.

THIRD - Learn the rules of how the mental health care system works and how to bend those rules.

FOURTH - Appreciate that you are on more of a marathon than a sprint. Which means never, ever, giving up.

In my TEDx talk, whose link follows, I talk about these four messages. I hope you will view this talk, which offers practical advice and hope.




Dr. Sederer's book for families who have a member with a mental illness, The Family Guide to Mental Health Care (Foreword by Glenn Close), is now available in paperback. 

Dr. Sederer is a psychiatrist and public health physician. The views expressed here are entirely his own. He takes no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.

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