Sibling with mental illness

The Effects of Complex Mental Illness on Siblings – BrightQuest Treatment Centers

March 26, 2020, Nathan FaldeBrightQuest Treatment Centers

A complex mental illness inevitably impacts everyone in the family. Siblings indirectly affected by their brother or sister’s severe mental illness may experience a complicated range of emotions, many of which are disturbing and stressful and may require extra effort to overcome. While parental support can be helpful, individual and family counseling may be needed in these situations to help siblings cope with their own mental health challenges.

When a child of any age is diagnosed with a complex mental illness like delusional disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, it can change a parent’s life forever. They may continue to shoulder significant caregiving responsibilities long after their son or daughter reaches adulthood.

This can put an emotional, physical, and financial strain on the entire family. Brothers and sisters of the person with the mental health disorder are often among those most gravely and deeply impacted, which is not always acknowledged or understood by parents or even by the siblings themselves. This is especially true when siblings are children or adolescents.

When the Siblings Are Children

If you as a parent are spending a lot of time caring for the sibling with the mental health problems, your other children may feel neglected or forgotten. Older siblings might understand that their brother or sister requires more care than usual. But it is asking a lot to expect younger children to adopt this more mature perspective.

Children who witness an older brother or sister battling a severe mental illness may experience great stress and anxiety. Their exposure to the behaviors such conditions can cause can be extremely confusing and upsetting. They likely won’t understand the true nature of mental illness, and consequently they may assume their brother or sister doesn’t love them anymore or is intentionally trying to make them scared or unhappy.

Caring for a son or daughter with a complex mental illness is time consuming. But if you have other children in the home, you must recognize that their sibling’s mental illness can have a dramatic impact on their health and emotional states. They need your time and attention, too, and if you simply assume they’re fine you may miss important signs of their distress.

Kids exposed to difficult family situations need consistent and empathic attention from their moms and dads. In cases like this, you can explain that their brother or sister is sick and isn’t really trying to be scary or mean. Children may not comprehend all the complexities of mental illness, but your reassurances and expressions of love can help ease their fears and dramatically reduce their sense of confusion and uncertainty.

As a supplement to your support, your kids could also benefit from regular visits with a pediatric counselor. Even if they haven’t been showing outward indications of anxiety lately, they are likely experiencing it at least on occasion. Counselors who work with children have a deep understanding of how kids respond to stress, and they can help their young patients develop coping strategies that will guide them through the hardest times.

When the Siblings Are Adolescents

Adolescent children are more capable of understanding the complexity of severe mental illness than younger children. But that understanding may be accompanied by fears that you as a parent should anticipate and address.

Teens are old enough to understand the genetic factors involved in mental illness, and they may fear that someday they will suffer from the same illness as their older sibling. You can proactively soothe such concerns by telling your adolescent children more about how mental illness develops, so they will understand that genetic factors alone aren’t enough to cause mental health disorders in most cases.

Adolescent children should be able to handle the facts. An honest approach that explains the situation in more detail is better than offering patronizing and facile reassurances that won’t answer their questions. Adolescents are smart enough to see through such a strategy, and they may become even more worried if they think you’re trying to hide something from them.

For teens affected by a sibling’s mental illness, counseling can be highly beneficial. Individual and family therapy sessions offer valuable opportunities for adolescents to talk about their fears, along with any other emotions they might be experiencing, in a supportive and non-judgmental setting. Teens are often reluctant to open up and express themselves truthfully in front of their parents, which is why individual therapy can act as an essential outlet for teens who need to talk about stressful events in their lives.

In many cases, older children are likely to experience feelings of shame, embarrassment, or resentment directed at their sibling. This can in turn generate feelings of guilt and self-recrimination. Skilled and experienced therapists can help teen siblings come to terms with all the complicated emotions they’ve been feeling, while helping them understand that such emotions are a natural response to difficult circumstances and not something inappropriate or disgraceful.

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When the Siblings Are Adults

If you’re an adult with a sister or brother who has a complex mental illness, you may feel it is your responsibility to help your parents deal with the fallout. You might believe it is your duty to offer your services as a part-time caretaker, or to provide financial assistance when it’s needed. You may be making an extra effort to provide emotional support and comfort when your mom or dad is feeling discouraged, depressed, or overwhelmed.

This is an admirable attitude. Your involvement can undoubtedly help ease the physical, emotional, and financial demands on your parents, which put their health and welfare at risk if they were left to shoulder all the responsibilities alone.

While your parents will appreciate your help and support, your sibling with the complex mental illness will appreciate it just as much if not more. Severe mental illness can leave those who have it feeling isolated and misunderstood, which can lead to depression that renders them incapable of taking action to help themselves. During these times of crisis, you can act as a voice of encouragement and a source of hope, providing unconditional love and practical assistance when both are desperately needed.

But if you choose to become more fully involved in your sibling’s life, as both a caregiver and confidante, this can put you under enormous stress. In fact, the burden may be even greater on you than it is on your parents, since you’ve cast yourself in a dual role. You may also have unresolved issues of shame, embarrassment, or guilt left over from your adolescent years, if your sibling’s mental illness was a factor back then.

No matter how independent or self-sufficient you think you’ve become, you may still gain great benefit from therapy that will let you explore your feelings honestly and without apology or judgment. Counseling could be your salvation, at a time when you’ve taken on significant responsibilities in addition to trying to manage your own life.

Facing the Challenges of Complex Mental Illness as a Family

When someone you love has a complex mental illness, you will be affected, and probably quite deeply. If that person is a brother or sister, you won’t be able to shield yourself from their problems, which will touch you as an individual while shaping or altering overall family dynamics in profound and sometimes troubling ways.

This reality must be acknowledged and addressed, both individually and collectively. Parents caring for a child with a complex mental illness should strive to create a stable and emotionally engaged home environment, where their other children will feel valued, respected, and loved. Everyone should be encouraged to talk about their feelings, with no concern about being criticized or judged. When children and adolescents ask questions they should be answered honestly, with no evasions or attempts to protect them from the truth.

If you’re an adult sibling of someone with complex mental health issues, you have a role to play in helping everyone cope as well. Even if you aren’t around the family home as much, your caring contributions can help protect and preserve healthy family dynamics.

Families affected by complex mental illness will face some daunting challenges. As long as everyone pulls together, motivated by love and mutual caring, these challenges can be successfully met. Individual counseling and family therapy can act as a lifeline for each member of the family, including brothers or sisters of any age who’ve shared the hardships experienced by siblings struggling to overcome life-altering medical conditions.

If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with schizoaffective disorders, schizophrenia, and severe bipolar as well as co-occurring substance use disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.

The Truth About Having a Sibling With a Mental Illness


ByJulie Zeilinger

Viral videos, personal essays and other campaigns have received widespread attention in recent years for the experience of living with mental illness. But one group intimately affected by mental illness has largely gone unrecognized: the siblings of those living with these conditions. 

Dubbed "well sibling syndrome" by some, studies and experts agree that individuals who have siblings with mental health issues have unique experiences shaped by this relationship. Here are just a few things everyone should know about what they face, according to the experts.

They may feel neglected


"As hard as parents may try — and they do — to meet the needs of their well siblings, time and energy are simply finite," Diane Marsh, a psychologist and co-author of a book on the topic, titled Troubled Journey, told NPR in 2007. "And so siblings often feel like the forgotten family members. Everybody else's problems are more important than theirs. "

Clinical psychologist Stacey Rosenfeld confirms this. "Time, attention, and resources are often compromised as the family responds to the symptoms of the illness and seeks out treatment and support," she told Mic. "Particularly if the illness begins in childhood, the sibling won't necessarily have a clear understanding of why his/her parents become less available and able to meet his/her needs."

They experience their own psychological and emotional challenges. 

Mic/Adventure Jay

According to a 46-year study conducted by the American Psychological Association published in 2008, people who have a sibling with mental illness are more likely to experience depression at some point in their lives than those who do not.

"A number of mental illnesses are genetic, so if one sibling is affected, others are more prone than the general population to developing similar (or related) concerns," Rosenfeld told Mic. "The stress of having a sick family member can also trigger health concerns. "

Additionally, witnessing their sibling's own struggle can be a challenging emotional experience for many. Siblings may experience a version of survivor's guilt, Rosenfeld told Mic, and feel "guilty that they aren't afflicted," while their sibling was.

Therapy and professional help aren't only beneficial for individuals with mental health issues, but for their siblings too.

"Siblings must make their own health a priority," Rosenfeld said. "Support and therapy can be helpful in processing some of these difficult emotions."

They're not immune to mental health-related stigma.


Beyond feeling that their siblings are "misunderstood and not treated well by society," these individuals may feel socially isolated themselves, clinical psychologist Sheela Raja told Mic. They may even experience "vicarious stigmatization," or "the stigma of other people judging them in terms of their sibling having a mental illness," and "feel that their siblings are misunderstood and not treated well by society," she added.  

This is just one reason greater social understanding of and support for individuals with mental illness is crucial. "We need more education so people understand this isn't a family failure, and to think of it with the same compassion that we do physical illness," Raja said.

Caring for a mentally ill sibling can take a toll.


"Like the airplane oxygen-mask analogy, someone can't properly care for an ill brother/sister if she isn't caring for herself," Rosenfeld said. "Siblings can be part of someone's support team, but shouldn't be the only members of the team. Professionals must be involved. Siblings can strike a balance between being involved but not sacrificing their own lives."

Siblings of people with mental illnesses commonly feel an "increased sense of responsibility in terms of taking care of their sibling — both as a child and then as an adult," Raja said. "In fact, some adult siblings feel that they should assume care-taking responsibilities as their parents get older. "

But while they might feel obligated to or truly want to do so, being the sole caretaker for a mentally ill sibling may be detrimental for that person.

Raja advised siblings to accept that "sometimes they may not have control over the course of their sibling's illness, and nobody is to blame. It is very difficult for siblings to take care of their own adult responsibilities as well as an adult sibling, so programs that can support mental illness treatment and help families are key." 

Nonetheless, while having a sibling with a mental illness is certainly a challenging experience, it can also be an empowering one. As Raja told Mic, "Many siblings find that they have tremendous strength and compassion that they never knew that they had."

Hopefully, as more attention is paid to these individuals' experiences, our society will only bolster that strength and compassion.

A story for teenagers whose siblings are mentally ill

Dear friend!

The story you are about to read is written by Diana Froggat, who served for many years as Executive Director of the World Schizophrenia Fellowship. This organization brings together relatives of patients with mental disorders. Diana Froggatt knows about the problems of such families firsthand, she did not read about them in books or magazines. Many years ago, a misfortune happened in her family - her son fell ill with schizophrenia. This happens, unfortunately. And not only with distant and unfamiliar people living in Canada or America. If events such as those described below touched your family, then this story and the following explanations are written for you.
Just like other members of the World Organization, Diana Froggatt is sure that psychiatric education helps families in solving many issues, and the knowledge gained gives hope for recovery and is necessary in difficult moments of life.
After you read the story, you will be able to read the comments of domestic experts who have been dealing with the problem of psychiatric education of families in our country for many years. We hope that everything written in this little book will be useful to you.

A story for teenagers who have siblings
or sisters suffering from mental illness

Leave me alone!
D. Froggatt

“Don't touch my things! Don’t come into my room!” Joan heard when she returned home from school. She had barely had time to put down her books when her brother Tim started yelling again, “Are you still spying on me?!” Joan didn't know what to say or what to do. She remained standing with her mouth open.

Tim's sudden rage completely confused her. He was five years older than her and they always had so much fun together. And now he constantly seemed irritated, upset or sullen. What did she do to make him so angry? Did she enter his room for anything? She couldn't remember exactly. And, of course, she wasn't spying on him. All this was very strange.
Gathering her books, Joan went into the kitchen. She didn't know how to act around Tim. So she called her friend Barbara and suggested that she go for a walk, or just chat, or maybe do some homework.

When the friends met, Joan told Barbara what was happening with Tim. Barbara suggested that perhaps the reason for the change in Tim's character was school affairs: he tried very hard, he wanted to get good grades in exams.

When Joan returned home, she was very worried that Tim would be angry with her again. However, he was nowhere to be seen. Mom was at home, she cooked dinner. Tim didn't even come down for dinner even though his mother called him. He stayed in his room and seemed to be studying.

Tim didn't go to school the next day and didn't leave his room all day. All these strange things that happened to Tim seriously alarmed all family members.

In the end, my mother decided to go to Tim's room. Tim slept wrapped in a blanket. Scribbled scraps of paper were scattered all over the room. At first, my mother thought it was his school work, but when she began to read, she discovered that what was written was complete nonsense. She realized that something terrible had happened to Tim.

Late at night, when everyone was asleep, Joan was awakened by some noise. She listened - it was Tim. He walked around the house and muttered something under his breath. Joan became frightened and decided not to leave her room. In the morning, she heard Tim tell his mother that some people had been talking to him all night.

Finally, Joan broke down and said, "I know something is going on with Tim, and I would like to know what happened to him." However, Mom didn't want to discuss with Joan what happened to Tim.
About a week later, Mom took Tim to the doctor: she became increasingly worried that Tim stayed up at night and expressed strange thoughts about family members. Tim also said that all his thoughts got mixed up in his head and did not let him sleep.
The doctor was not sure that Tim's restless behavior was due to the fact that Tim had to spend a lot of time studying for exams. However, for starters, he advised Tim to try to get a good night's sleep and exercise during the day. When Tim's condition did not improve a few weeks later, his family doctor advised him to see a specialist who would prescribe treatment for his confusion. Tim agreed to go, although he was embarrassed to tell his friends about it. After seeing a specialist, Tim began treatment, which the doctor hoped would help him.

“Come into my room, I'll show you the poster Michael's father gave me,” Tim soon called Joan to his room. In his hands he held a bright poster with a portrait of one of the players of the local football team.

The last few days he looked much better. And Joan was glad that Tim was becoming what he was before.

Let's hope that in the future Tim will feel good.

Author's commentary

Some young people (teenagers or twenties) who hear voices or suffer from mental confusion have a mental illness that requires medication.

If a person suffers from a mental illness like Tim, this means that he is not able to distinguish the real world from fantasy. Sometimes the world of fantasy takes over the human mind and completely captures it. For example, in the case of Tim, it seemed to him that his sister was spying on him.

The specialist Tim visited was a psychiatrist, a doctor who treats mental disorders. It is very important that people go to this specialist if they feel that something unusual is happening to them, as in the case of Tim. The most important thing is to start treatment as early as possible.

Tim felt embarrassed and ashamed about what was happening to him. If you have a mental illness, there is no need to be ashamed of it. People are not ashamed of being diabetic or having arthritis. Why be ashamed of mental illness?

There are several types of disorders in which a person cannot distinguish reality from fantasy. Sometimes the fantasy world becomes so real that people believe it is the real world and no one can convince them otherwise. One such disorder is called schizophrenia. Schizophrenia can and should be treated, although people with the condition are not always sure that they are ill and do not want to take medication. Uncertainty, fear of illness, and sometimes the illness itself, make them believe that everything is fine with him.

Brothers and sisters of people with schizophrenia often feel guilty that in some way they themselves were the cause of the illness of a loved one. To think so is wrong, it is better to learn to understand what is happening with a brother or sister. Schizophrenia is a disease like any other. We don't know why some people get diabetes or arthritis. We may not know the reason for this, but we know for sure that there is a treatment that will help to cope with the manifestations of the disease. So don't blame yourself.

Sometimes families try to protect younger brothers or sisters from the information that their older brother or sister is sick. This is not entirely correct, since the younger members of the family need to know and understand why certain changes occur in the family.

Doctors call signs of illness symptoms. Below you will read what are the symptoms of people suffering from mental disorders. But it is not at all necessary that they all immediately appear in the patient.


People can:
- to believe in strange things that are not real, real;
- feel that their family and friends are opposed to them;
- hear strange sounds and voices that come to them from outside, or see, hear and taste something that is not really there;
- have confused thoughts that interfere with them;
- be unable to concentrate on anything or make a decision;
- to have a sharp change of mood or emotions;
- to believe that they are famous people.

Imagine how you would feel if you were in their place. Think about how you would react to friends and family members. Remember that, if possible, you need to try to understand such people and help them.

No doubt you are very nervous and upset about what is happening in your family. And if your sick brother or sister is rude to you, try not to be rude to them in return. Remember that their rude behavior is the result of the disease, and not their actual attitude towards you.

And one more very important observation: the sooner you start treating a person with schizophrenia, the more chances he will have for recovery. And the longer a person suffering from this disease remains untreated, the less chance he has for the most complete recovery. This is due to the fact that being in this state for a long time is harmful to health. Try to do everything possible from you so that your sick brother or sister goes to a psychiatrist as soon as possible.

Translation from English by Maria Solokhina

Commentary of a psychiatrist and psychologist

What do the words: "My brother (or sister) is mentally ill" mean? What do they mean to you? What do they mean to your parents and siblings? What do they mean to your friends, classmates and neighbors? What do they mean for the sick person, finally? Let's try to figure it out.

Mental illness
First of all, you need to understand what "mental illness" is. It is important to know that mental illnesses are different.

Diane Froggatt's story was about schizophrenia - a disease in which it is difficult for a person to distinguish between what is happening in reality and what exists only in his imagination. Mentally healthy people usually know well where the line between the real and the fictional is. However, even they, under certain conditions, can lose it for a while. For example, under the influence of severe stress, fear, overwork or poisoning. “Fear has big eyes,” says a proverb about such cases. In healthy people, the feeling of this border is restored quickly. But people with schizophrenia can be in a state of lost landmarks for a long time.

Painfully "overgrown" inner world all the time, as it were, crowds out the world of real things, events and people. At the same time, the sick person becomes more and more indifferent to the people around him, to what connected him with them in the past, to their experiences and efforts. The preoccupation with his own inner life and the loss of interest in other people become the reasons for his callousness, selfishness, cruelty and consumer attitude towards loved ones.

As a rule, the sick person has a general decrease in interest in life, leading to a lack of will, desires and strength. At the same time, some trifling events for other people can suddenly cause an incomprehensible and unpredictable violent reaction in the patient. His brain seems to refract the signals coming to him from outside through the prism of his own laws. Confusion of thoughts and loss of the ability to reason logically make communication with such a patient even more difficult.

Here are some important facts about schizophrenia:
• schizophrenia is not a bad character, not depravity, not stupidity or underdevelopment, but a disease
• this disease can proceed and manifest itself in very different ways
• Only a psychiatrist can diagnose schizophrenia and no one else
• like most illnesses, schizophrenia is treatable
• schizophrenia is a disease that occurs as a result of biochemical disorders in the body, the causes of which are still not completely clear
• events in the patient's life (eg divorce of parents, loss of a friend, etc. ) also contribute to the development of the disease
• exhaustion of the body's strength as a result of some serious illness or frequent emotional stress can "start" the disease, accelerate the appearance of its first signs and make its course more severe
• hormonal restructuring of the body in adolescence, with a high predisposition to this disease, increases the likelihood of its onset
• schizophrenia often proceeds in waves, its symptoms may either decrease and disappear, then reappear; this does not mean that the patient is being treated poorly or someone is to blame - it’s just that the disease can have this type of course
• treatment of schizophrenia is long-term, it must continue after the signs of the disease have disappeared, sometimes for years;
• various drugs are used to treat schizophrenia - antipsychotics, antidepressants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, etc., but only a psychiatrist can prescribe them
• Great strides have been made in the development of new effective drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia.

Another mental illness, not as severe but much more common, is depression .

Usually, when people say depression, they mean depressed mood. There is no person who has not experienced it. Sometimes we are very sad or worried about something. Sometimes in life such events occur that longing and heartache are inevitable. But sooner or later, the dark stripe should be replaced by a bright one. But it may also happen that weeks and months succeed each other, but the bright streak does not come.

For a long time a person experiences a constant decline in strength, nothing brings him pleasure, even that which has always pleased before. It is difficult for him to focus his attention on work or study, it becomes increasingly difficult to perform his usual duties. It happens that he is constantly irritated over trifles or, conversely, crushed by feelings of worthlessness, guilt and shame. Sleep and appetite are often disturbed, headaches or heart pain occur. If this condition lasts more than two weeks, then the psychiatrist can diagnose the patient with depression.

What are its causes? As a rule, there are several reasons at once. Hereditary predisposition to depression and difficult life events also play a role. Unfavorable living conditions and some features of a person's character may also be important. However, in all cases, the biological basis of depression is the same - it is a chemical change in the brain.

There are special substances in the brain - neurotransmitters. They are responsible for many mental processes, including our emotions. If there is a decrease in the number of mediators serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, then a person experiences a state of depression.

It used to be thought that depression was a disease of adults and that children and adolescents were not capable of experiencing it. Their apathy, inattention, irritability or tearfulness were perceived as the result of poor education, laziness, stubbornness, whims. Recent brain studies have shown that this behavior may also be due to a decrease in the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain of a child or adolescent.

Of course, mood swings and misbehavior are not uncommon for perfectly healthy children and adolescents. But if one of them constantly feels unhappy or angry, it is reasonable to consider visiting a psychiatrist.

Depression responds well to medications that restore normal levels of neurotransmitters. There are many antidepressant drugs. They differ from each other in their mechanism of action and are intended to treat different forms of depression. It is very important to choose the right drug. This can be done by a psychiatrist.

In addition to taking medication, it is necessary that a person suffering from depression try to understand himself, comprehend his problems and find a more optimistic outlook on life. It is often difficult for a person to do this on their own. A specialist can help him in this - a psychotherapist or a psychologist-consultant or just a kind, reasonable and patient person.

In general, the sooner treatment is started, the better the outcome. We must be prepared for the fact that the treatment of depression can be long. It may take several months until the level of neurotransmitters is restored. With proper treatment, a full recovery occurs.

Sometimes depressions appear almost without apparent connection with events and circumstances, as if by themselves. They last for a while, then pass, and after a while everything repeats again. Like schizophrenia, this depression has its own rhythm, its own course, its own internal logic.

Attacks of such depression can be replaced by opposite states. At this time, a person has a constant, unrelated, cheerful mood, high activity, agitation, and a decrease in the need for sleep. He moves and talks a lot. He becomes overconfident and often seeks to assert himself from a position of strength, which often leads to rudeness and conflict. He can become annoying and tiresome to those around him because his ability to understand other people is weakened. Experts call such states "manic" .

In the interval between attacks, a person again becomes himself, the way others used to see him.

Susceptibility to this unexplained "rocking" of mood is also a mental disorder and it is possible that the person suffers bipolar affective disorder . A person with such features should also consult a psychiatrist.

There are other types of mental illness. All of them are united by the fact that the ill person suffers from an inability to manage his life and his behavior and cope with the tasks that life in society imposes on him. And with his actions and his strange behavior, he causes suffering to other people, primarily to members of his family.

Family life

The mental disorder of one of the family members usually affects the lives of all other members of the family. The rhythm and routine of family life is disrupted. The strange and sometimes dangerous behavior of the patient can keep the whole family in a state of perpetual nervous tension. People who have mentally ill people in their families say that it is often impossible for them to calm down, because they do not know what else can happen: a scandal in the middle of the night or the unexpected disappearance of a patient from home. They often worry about the future, because the patient is not able to solve his own life problems. Often, this is accompanied by a feeling of guilt that everything in the family is not going the way it should be. Parents and siblings may experience intense frustration with the appearance, behavior, and lifestyle of their loved one. Indignation, irritation, bitterness sometimes develop into anger and protest. And then there are vicious attacks on the patient or on other family members.

It is very important for you to know and always remember that such feelings arise not only in you or your family members. These feelings are common to most people who find themselves in the grip of the same problems. These are normal human reactions to a very difficult and annoying situation.

However, experiencing even very strong feelings, a person may not give them full power over himself. The situation that is tormenting you will not change for the better if you torment yourself with anger, anxiety or guilt. You have a difficult task ahead of you - to resist these emotions. Without solving this problem, negative emotions will become dominant, and then it will become almost impossible to improve your family situation. How can you cope with this task?

Changing your attitude

First of all, you must try to change your attitude towards a sick person - your brother or sister. And for this you need to try to understand it as best as possible. We usually know our loved ones quite well. We know their habits, tastes, desires, likes and dislikes. This helps us to correctly understand their actions and intentions and correctly respond to them. A person with a mental illness is much more difficult to understand than an ordinary person. His ideas and experiences can be very different from what we used to expect from a normal person.

Sometimes our understanding is greatly interfered with by our own negative feelings towards the patient and our own wrong, but persistent ideas about him. Indeed, it is difficult to force yourself to understand a person who has caused so much trouble and misfortune. This requires a strong will and a lot of kindness. Pity, the ability to be merciful, the desire to maintain one's own dignity in difficult situations, as well as research interest can become a support for you in the difficult task of understanding the mental world of a sick person.

Misconceptions about the patient's personality prevent us from accepting new information about him. People usually pronounce the words "psycho", "schizo", "crazy" with ease, putting into these words ready-made ideas about patients. It is implied that they are all the same and have known traits. And certain behavior is expected from them. This is a common mistake. Look carefully at your brother or sister, study and remember his or her features. Only by understanding their individuality, it is possible to invent methods of influencing their behavior.

It is very useful to look closely at how his acquaintances and friends find an approach to the patient, and in general those people who manage to communicate with him. You may also be advised to keep a special diary in which you can record important moments of your relationship, your findings and failures.

Another effective technique is to sit down and have a calm conversation with a sick family member. In this conversation, you can express your concern about his behavior in very careful words and expressions and listen carefully to his answers. It is important not to stray into reproaches, claims and demands. The task of a healthy person is to turn this conversation with a sick person into a “heart-to-heart talk”. Do not expect her to quickly correct his behavior. Just talk with the mindset of understanding.

When talking to a mentally ill person, it is better to use sparing expressions. For example, instead of exclaiming: “What have you done ?!” it is better to say: "It should have been done wrong" and show or tell exactly how he should have done it. Instead of: "Stop bothering me," you can say: "I would like to be alone." The question "Did you take my book?" will sound more softly in the form of “Have you seen my book?” The expression "You are talking nonsense" will not hurt if you turn it into "Sorry, I did not quite understand you."

Sometimes, if a frank conversation is successful, the patient's "sins", his serious misdeeds, may come to light. How to proceed in this case? If you start to resent and condemn, then more frank conversation will not work. If this is not done, then the patient may have a feeling that he can continue to behave this way. You can do the following. In a calm but firm tone, say: “It’s good that you told me frankly about this. Now we can think together about what can be done to prevent this from happening again.” Or: “It’s good that you spoke frankly. This is already a victory, the first step.”

If you can better understand your brother or sister, your attitude towards them will change. Now it will be easier for you to adjust to life with him or her.

Favorable family atmosphere

Studies of families where there are patients with schizophrenia have shown that how the disease will proceed depends on the emotional climate in the family. It is known that these patients have increased sensitivity and vulnerability. Although they themselves, due to their illness, have little ability to empathize with another person, they are easily offended and suffer greatly if they are treated harshly or rudely. Therefore, the tone in which they usually speak in the family, whether they often criticize and scold each other, whether they are strongly infected by negative emotions from each other - all this affects the frequency and strength of new attacks of the disease. In "calm families" attacks in patients occur three to four times less often, and patients from these families have a much higher percentage of complete cure.

Preservation of a favorable atmosphere in the family largely depends on what requirements are imposed on the patient in the family. Often these requirements are set without regard to the fact that it will be too difficult for him to fulfill them due to mental disorders. For example, a morbidly aggressive person must make much more effort than a healthy person to keep themselves from swearing and fighting in a conflict situation. He often fails to do this. Family members, focused on the possibilities of a healthy person, give vent to their indignation, exposing the patient to another stress.

It doesn't occur to people to ask a person with a broken leg to run as fast as a healthy one. However, it is often considered normal to require the mentally ill to regulate their behavior as well as healthy people.

Myths about mental illness

There are many myths about mental illness among people who do not face mental illness. Too quick and self-confident conclusions, half-truths, half-fictions and even just lies are constantly accompanying mental illness. They complicate the already very difficult situation of patients and their relatives. Here are the most common myths.

Myth one:

• "Schizophrenia", "depression", "psychosis" - these are not just medical diagnoses, but something terrible, from which society must protect itself by locking people suffering from these diseases in "psychiatric hospitals".

The imagination of people draws vivid pictures of madness, "rabies", uncontrollability, unpredictability and complete worthlessness of mental patients. It is not right! A person can have a mental illness and lead the same life as the mentally healthy people around him. Most patients who receive the right treatment can fulfill family responsibilities, can study and work. It is more difficult for them to do this than for healthy people, and for them every day is a small victory.

Myth two:

• “It is always the family's fault that one of its members has a mental illness”.

People around cannot calm down until they find an explanation for what is happening in the patient's family. It seems to them that such a fate befell the family because of her guilt before the sick person or because of some kind of mistake. Common judgments that can be heard in such cases: "If they had been stricter with him in childhood, this would not have happened." Or, on the contrary: “If they were brought up softer in their time, then I would not go crazy.” Such a view forces both the patients themselves and their relatives to experience an acute sense of shame for themselves. They begin to perceive their problems not only as difficult, but also as shameful. However, as mentioned earlier, mental illness always has deeper, biological causes. And besides, you can be ashamed of your wrong position or wrong choice. Nobody ever chooses disease. Illness is a misfortune that occurs, and which must be lived and dealt with.

Myth three:

• "Mental illness can be dealt with with self-discipline and willpower."

“Why doesn’t he stop behaving like that?”, “If she wanted to, she would make more efforts to improve!”, “If he had a conscience” - such and similar statements can often be heard about people with mental disorders. diseases. With the same success, one could reproach a person with diseased kidneys for not having enough willpower to control the work of his kidneys. A person with a mental illness often cannot cope with his emotions and follows in his behavior where they lead him. A healthy person knows that he will eventually cope with his turbulent emotions. And for the patient, this task is often in principle impossible. And to convince him that he himself is to blame for everything means to further strengthen the sick person in the suspicion that he is a bad person. The tendency to think badly about himself arises in him and by itself, as a result of mental illness. The accusations exacerbate an already difficult situation. The disease must be treated. Willpower is not enough here.

Another myth:

• "Drugs are addictive and addictive."

This myth encourages relatives and patients themselves to be afraid of going to the doctor, as they do not trust medicines. The biggest fears are associated with the idea that once started, a person will be forced to take medication for life. Most modern drugs used in the treatment of mental illness do not cause dependence on them. However, it is also true that a person who has suffered severe attacks may need medicine for the rest of his life as a means of saving his mind. A psychiatrist should prescribe the medicine and decide what dose is needed and when it can be reduced.

The following myth often exists:

• "Mental illness is incurable. "

This is also false! It has already been said above that this is not the case. In many cases, with proper treatment, full recovery is possible. In other cases, with the help of treatment, it is possible to reduce the symptoms of the disease, return the patient to a normal life at home, to study, work and communicate with others. Treatment also helps to avoid new attacks of the disease.


As has been emphasized more than once, it is necessary to treat a patient with a mental disorder. However, the low energy, indifference, or hopelessness that are part of the illness may prevent him from seeking recovery. Therefore, the help of relatives is very important for him.

One problem may be that the sick person becomes too inactive to seek help on their own. In addition, he may not recognize any violations in himself. Finally, your brother or sister may not know where and how to go for medical examination and help. You now know that such illnesses are treated by a psychiatrist. Maybe you need to tell this to adults? The first aid of the family to a sick person is to establish and recognize the fact of a mental illness in him.

Another very common problem associated with treatment is the patient's failure to comply with the doctor's recommendations. Children and adolescents often “out of spite” refuse what their parents are pushing them to do. Persistent parental intervention in their lives and in healthy adolescents usually causes protest. In addition, taking medication makes a person once again remember his illness, which he might be glad to forget about.
The patient may not believe that the drugs will help him. In addition, the disease makes him forgetful. He may not remember when he last took the medicine and whether he took it at all, and therefore there may be missed doses or, conversely, taking extra portions. Family members need to be able to monitor patient compliance with the prescribed course of treatment.

There seems to be no one-size-fits-all way to do this. In some cases, the patient can be negotiated. At the same time, it is important to emphasize in every possible way that by controlling the intake of medicines, relatives do not spy on him, but help him cope with a difficult task for him. Calmly persuading, explaining, begging, praising for the right actions, you can achieve a lot. It is important to remember that attempts to negotiate will have to be repeated again and again. It will be easier not to be angry that the patient violates your agreements with him if you remember about his condition. Perhaps in other cases it would be more correct to act more decisively, not persuading, but giving orders. And sometimes it's not bad if family members manage to establish a cunning "covert surveillance" of timely medication.

Once the treatment begins to work, another difficulty may arise. Patients sometimes want to stop taking the medicine or arbitrarily reduce the dose if they feel better. Unfortunately, relatives often support them in this. But first of all, they should remember that the consequences of an untreated or undertreated disease will again fall on their shoulders.


Sometimes people with mental disorders need to be admitted to the hospital. Hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital occurs when a mentally ill person poses a danger to others or to himself.

It is very important to treat hospitalization not as a punishment for the patient, but as a necessary "stop-off" for his own safety. The image of a "safe haven" from a life that is too difficult for the sick person will also work. For the family, this period can be associated with very strong unrest. However, it may be that hospitalization will become a paradise for the whole family. It is wise to take advantage of this respite and restore your exhausted strength at least a little.

The period when a family member is discharged home from a psychiatric hospital can also be stressful. Relatives need to decide in advance how to talk about what happened to the patient, how to talk to others about what happened, and how to behave with younger family members.

Your friends and acquaintances may be very confused if they find out that your brother or sister has been in a psychiatric hospital. If your friends come to you and ask what happened to him (or her) then there is no point in keeping it a secret. But you always have the right not to discuss this problem to a greater extent than you want to.

Think in advance what topics are inappropriate in chatting with friends, and you will not support them. It would be nice to come up with and memorize phrases with which you can, on occasion, stop the excessive curiosity of outsiders. For example: “It was difficult for all of us. Now we don't want to think about it all the time, but just move on." Or, "I'm not in the mood to talk about it right now." This must be said very calmly, firmly and dispassionately. And after that, start talking more animatedly about something else. Psychologists call these techniques “setting boundaries.”

But with close friends and girlfriends, you can and should talk about your feelings and experiences because of what happened. It's good to have such friends!

It is also important for your brother or sister to communicate with his or her friends. It is very bad if a sick person is thrown out of life. It is possible that he (she) will now have fewer meetings and conversations with friends, but it is desirable that they do not stop at all. Family members can decide among themselves which contacts are harmful for the patient, and they will try to limit them. But those acquaintances, communication with which has a beneficial effect on your brother or sister, they can specially invite you to visit, for joint walks or to the cinema.

When talking to the patient about their stay in the hospital, use reassuring words often. Pay attention to all the improvements and small victories. You can also say: "I'm so glad you're home now", "I missed you".


People need a lot of energy to get through a difficult situation like yours. Therefore, it is very important that we take care of ourselves: eat well, sleep enough, and do things that bring us joy. No one will get better if you bring yourself to physical or nervous exhaustion. And for sure, you will be a poor helper to your brother or sister and your parents in their troubles.

Here are some tips to help yourself. You can share them with your parents if needed.

• Exercise is a great way to stay healthy and reduce stress. It is not necessary to constantly go to the gym if this is not possible. Morning exercises, a half-hour jog, a good walk, weeding the beds - everything is fine!
• Try to keep the usual daily routine. Keeping and maintaining reasonable control over your regimen will help you gain peace of mind and self-confidence.
• Maintain friendship. The illness of one of the family members is not a reason to become lonely and forever unhappy.
• Use every opportunity to get a break or some pleasure. Do not reject the help of good people - you need it.
• Express your feelings as often as possible, do not store them in yourself. Talk about them with loved ones, depict them in drawings or describe them in a notebook.
• Maintain a life perspective. Make plans and take real steps to fulfill them.
• Remember that your possibilities are not unlimited. Be reasonable - do not take on too much responsibility, because you cannot control everything around you.
• Do not engage in vain self-accusation. We all make bad decisions sometimes. We might not know something or we didn't have enough time to think about a decision... We can be responsible for our efforts, but not always for their result. Feel sorry and forgive yourself.
• Remember: life has changed, but it goes on!


• Golant M., Golant S. If the one you love is depressed. M., 2001
• Twelve lectures on psychiatry and mental health. To help the family. / Under the editorship of prof. V.S. Yastrebova.– M., 2005
• Iovchuk N.M., Severny A.A., Morozova N.B. Child social psychiatry for non-psychiatrists. M., 2006
• Mental health disorders: to help the family. Under the editorship of prof. V.S. Yastrebova. - 3rd ed. - M., 2008
• Eidemiller E.G., Yustitskis V.V. Psychology and psychotherapy of the family. Saint Petersburg, 2001

Are mental illnesses hereditary? This question worries many parents. After all, it is very scary to “reward” your child with a mental disorder.

How mental illnesses are transmitted

The fact that mental illness can be inherited has been noticed for a long time. Today, geneticists confirm: indeed, mental disorders are more likely to appear in a child in a family where a relative suffered from a similar illness. And the reason for this are violations in the structure of genes.

There is such a thing as the coefficient of hereditary risk. The higher this coefficient, the higher the likelihood that the child will inherit the disease of relatives.

Only some mental illnesses are directly related to breakdowns in the genes, for example, Huntington's chorea, the hereditary risk coefficient of which is 5000. For comparison, for such a mental illness as schizophrenia, it is 9.

How does the degree of relationship affect hereditary diseases?

The risk of developing a mental illness depends on the degree of relationship with a sick family member and on the number of sick relatives.

The highest probability of transmission of the disease in identical twins, followed by 1st degree relationship (parents, children, brothers, sisters). In 2nd degree relatives, the risk is significantly reduced

So, with schizophrenia, which is present in the mother and father, the probability of its occurrence in children is 46%, if one parent is sick - about 13%, if the grandfather or grandmother is sick - 5%.

Which mental illnesses are most often inherited

1. Disorders of the mental development of children

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is manifested by impulsivity, difficulty concentrating, increased physical activity. Often this disorder is combined with depression, behavioral disorders.
  • Dyslexia - the inability to read, compare what is written with speech in some cases is hereditary.
  • Autism is a severe mental disorder, expressed in violation of social adaptation. An autistic child is closed, he does not want to communicate with the outside world, he exists in his personal space. He does not tolerate any change, he has his own rituals, which he strictly observes. He constantly repeats stereotypical movements (rocking, bouncing) or the same phrases.

Autism is usually diagnosed in the first three years of a child's life.

It is believed that the role of heredity in the occurrence of this disease is great.

2. Schizophrenia

This is a mental illness, which is characterized by disturbances in thinking, perception of the world, inappropriate behavior and an abnormal reaction to stimuli. The disease may be accompanied by agitation, delusions, hallucinations. Patients are prone to depression and suicidal.

As a rule, the onset of the disease falls on the age of 20-22 to 30 years.

Heredity plays a significant role in the occurrence of this disease, but other factors are no less important: complications during gestation, difficult childbirth in the mother, infections, difficult psycho-emotional situations, and even birth in winter.

3. Affective bipolar disorder

Otherwise, this mental illness is called manic-depressive psychosis. It proceeds with an alternation of phases: depression and excitement, sometimes with aggression. There may be gaps between these phases.

4. Alzheimer's disease

This disease develops after the age of 65 and is expressed first in forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating. Then there is confusion, loss of orientation in space. Irritability, unmotivated aggression appear, speech is disturbed. Dementia develops.

Rarely enough, the disease begins earlier, and here the hereditary factor, the pathological gene, plays a significant role.

Other hereditary mental illnesses:

  • epilepsy;
  • psychopathy;
  • alcohol dependence;
  • dementia;
  • Down syndrome;
  • Huntington's chorea;
  • "cat cry" syndrome;
  • Klinefelter's syndrome.

All of these mental illnesses can be inherited. At the same time, they can appear in a family where no one has suffered from such disorders. True, the risk of disease in this case is less, but it exists. So, you can get schizophrenia in a completely “healthy” family with a probability of 1%.

If there is a risk

Many people are afraid of passing on hereditary diseases to their children (even if distant relatives suffered from them), especially mental disorders, and therefore prefer not to have a child.

Learn more