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Mental Illness Guide: Care, Support, and Education
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How can I get my family to accept me?

Many people do not understand what it means to have a mental illness.  They only know what they have read in books or heard on TV.  These stories usually do not do a good job of telling about the average person who has a mental illness.  Your family might have some false beliefs about mental illness that will make it hard, at first, for them to understand and accept your illness.  They need to understand your illness.  They can use this website to learn more.

Ask your family to look around the website. Ask them to read through information on the Help for families page. There is a lot of information about schizophrenia for them to read on the website.  This might be a good place to start.  Below, we have tried to give you some information about how your family feels and what you can do to help them understand you and accept you.

The way your family feels is normal

Your family will also be feeling many different things.  These feelings are common to a lot of families who have a loved one who has serious mental illness.  You should not get upset that your family feels the way they do.  Do not take it personally.  After all, they only feel that way because they care about you and want the best for you.

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They might be worried about what is happening to you and whether or not you are going to be okay.

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They might be wondering if they did something wrong that made you get sick.  They might be sad if they think that getting sick means that you will not be able to do a lot of the things they hoped you would be able to do.  Things like going to college, having a career, getting married or having children.

Remember, your family wants to help.  It is just that they might not know how.  It is hard for them to see someone they love get sick.  If you have patience and are open about your illness, you will find that:

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You will receive the support and acceptance you are looking for.

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Your family will help you with chores, transportation, finances, etc.

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Your family will grow stronger.

Go slowly with your family and with yourself

For these reasons, it is important to be patient and give your family time to adjust.  Have faith in your family that they will learn about your illness and be able to accept you for who you are.  There are a few things you can keep in mind that will help them.

Do not be afraid to ask for help

Getting better should be a family effort.  There are a lot of things that your family can do to help you get better.  For example, you can all work together to set up a daily schedule that you all will follow to help you reduce stress.

Do not be afraid to be honest with your family

Tell your family you want them to be open and honest with you.  You should sit down as a family at least once a week to discuss ways to problem solve and focus on things that are going well.  Come up with answers together that will make everyone happy.  If you work together, it will be easier for everyone to adjust to the illness.

Of course, having a mental illness often makes it hard to talk with family.  You may find you have a hard time telling people your thoughts or understanding what they are saying.  Tell your family this.  It is important for you to be patient with yourself as well.  As you continue with your treatment, you will get better at talking to people and understanding them.  Then it will be easier for you and your family to talk with each other again.

Find help

If you are having trouble talking to your family and explaining your illness, there are places your family members can go to learn about schizophrenia and what they can do to help you.  There are also places they can go to share their own feelings and experiences with other families who have relatives with schizophrenia.

Ask your family to go to an educational program

Your family can Learn about schizophrenia  Understanding bipolar disorder on this website.   Programs that teach people about mental illness are called “psychoeducation programs.”  They teach people who have mental illness and their families about the different, illness, how to deal with them, and how to be aware of the signs that the person with mental illness might be getting sick again so that they can get the person treatment before this happens.  They teach families how to solve problems effectively so that they can make as smooth an adjustment as possible to your illness.  The goal of psychoeducation is to reduce distress and worries within the family so that they can support the person with mental illness better.

Ask your family to go to a support

Your family might want to go to a local support of the National Alliance for Mental Illness www.nami.org to help them learn more about mental illness and share the feelings they are having.  It might help them to hear stories from other families about how they felt when their relative got sick and what they did to adjust.  It will help your family to know that they are not alone in what you are all going through.

Helpful information for your family

Following is some reading material that may help your family understand your illness better.  There is a list of facts that everyone should know about  mental illness.  There is a list of feelings that are common to families with a relative with  mental illness.  There is a list of common misunderstandings about  mental illness and why people believe the wrong things about the illness.  There is also a lesson that can help family members imagine what it is like to have  mental illness.

Facts about  mental illness that families should know

The first thing that the person with mental illness and his or her family will need to do is learn the facts about  mental illness.  This will help everyone to clear up any misunderstandings they might have.

Stress affects the illness, so do your best to reduce stress.

People with mental illness will be more sensitive to stress and strong emotions.  Many of the stresses of daily life will affect them more strongly than they would others.  This is why it is so important to reduce stress.

People with schizophrenia get sick several times.  About 20% of those with schizophrenia only get sick once, and never get sick again.  The majority of people, however, get sick several times over the course of many years.  The person may be fairly healthy between some periods of being sick, and less so between others.  There is no way to tell who will only get sick once and who will continue to get sick throughout their life.

Common feelings that family members have

The family of a person with  mental illness needs to realize that the feelings they are probably having are normal.  They should not blame themselves or feel frustrated for feeling the way they do.  Families often have the following feelings:

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Fear

Families feel afraid about what is happening to the person with  mental illness.  They get nervous about whether or not the person is going to be okay.

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Guilt

Families feel guilty about what happened.  They might think that they did something wrong to make the person get sick.

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Embarrassment

Families get embarrassed when the person with  mental illness acts in strange ways around friends or in public, even if they understand the person cannot help it.

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Frustration

Families get frustrated when the things they do fail to make the person with  mental illness get better.  They might think that they are doing something wrong because they cannot “cure” the person who has  mental illness.

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Anger

Families get angry and lose their tempers with the person on occasion.

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Sadness

Families feel sad that their family member with  mental illness no longer seems like the same person.

The truth about  mental illness

If families know the truth behind the beliefs about  mental illness, it will be easier for them to accept people with  mental illness for who they are.

MISTAKEN BELIEF:  Having  mental illness means that you have several personalities.

People often think that schizophrenia is the same as “split personality,” a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde switch in character.  This is not a correct description of schizophrenia.  In fact, split personality is an entirely different disorder that is quite rare and not related to schizophrenia.  People with schizophrenia do not change back and forth from one identity to another.  Instead, people with schizophrenia are cut off from the rest of the world because their thought processes are different from those of healthy individuals.  A person with schizophrenia has a “split” from reality, rather than a “split” in personality.  For example, the person may see or hear something that does not actually exist.

MISTAKEN BELIEF:  Parents are to blame for their child having  mental illness.

People also wrongly assume that families are to blame for their relative's illness.  In the 1950s, psychiatrists began to believe that schizophrenia was caused by mental stresses a person experienced early in life.  They thought parents caused these stresses.  They thought that mothers who were overly worried, controlling and bossy raised children who eventually got schizophrenia.  It is easy to see the confusion.  Parents with children who had begun to exhibit the symptoms of schizophrenia no doubt had to be very forceful and pushy to get their children the medical help they needed.  Professionals probably confused this pushiness as the personality characteristics of the parents who caused the children to be the way they were.  They did not realize that the parents only acted this way because of their children's problems.

Nowadays, mental health workers understand the kinds of feelings that families have.  Rather than making the family feel bad about these feelings, they help families understand that these feelings are normal, and nothing to be ashamed of.  They also let the family know how important it is for them to get involved in the person’s treatment, rather than blaming them for the person’s illness.

MISTAKEN BELIEF:   Mental illness are not a real dis ease.  People who claim to have one are just faking to get attention.  They could act normally if they wanted to.

Thomas Szasz, an American psychoanalyst, thought that schizophrenia, and other mental illness, were real  disease.  He saw mental illnesses as certain ways that people behaved.  Later, R.D. Laing, a British psychiatrist, came up with a similar explanation.  He thought that mental illness was not an illness at all.  He saw mental illnesses as a healthy response to an insane world.  He thought that people who experienced extreme stress acted in "crazy" ways in order to cope with and adapt to the stress.  These theories give the impression that people with schizophrenia have control over the way they think and behave.  If this were true, that would mean that people with schizophrenia are just being stubborn and refusing to behave "normally."  Neither of these theories is true, but because they were highly publicized at the time, their effect on people's ideas of what  mental illness is remains with us today.  We now know that these illnesses are mental illness is a real disease.

Imagine what it is like to have  mental illness

Sometimes it is hard for families to understand the symptoms of serious mental illness because unless you have experienced it first hand, it is hard to imagine what a person with the illness goes through.  Imagine what it is like to have  serious mental illness.  Have you ever:

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Gone for 24 hours or more without sleep?  How would you feel after being awake this long?  How would you look?

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Dozed off for a second, awakened with a start and did not know where you were?  How did you feel?  What would it be like to feel that way for a day, a week, several weeks?

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Lost your sunglasses or car keys and no matter what you did, you could not find them?  How did it make you feel?  Did you feel like screaming?

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Been driving down the road when suddenly your directions got mixed up?  North or south reversed or confused?  How did you feel?

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Had a funny little tune going through your mind for a couple of hours or for a whole day, and no matter what you did it still bothered you?  How would you feel if that tune went through your mind for three days, a week, a month?

Now put three or more of these items together.  Say you had not slept for three days, you heard the same music going on and on in your head, and you could not find your car keys.  How would you feel?  How would you look?  What would you do?   How would you communicate with others?  How would others behave toward you?

This may make it easier for you to understand how people who are mentally ill might feel.  They may feel this way all the time.  Can you understand why they do not look really attractive at times?  Why they may not brush their hair or change their clothes?  Can you understand how they must feel?