Struggling With A Loved One’s Mental Health Journey

As part of a series called Real Families, writer Ashley Womble this week shared a moving account of her brother’s experience with schizophrenia, and how it has affected her. Womble recalls the relatively swift change in her brother Jay, now 21, who developed conspiracy theories, became increasingly paranoid, and eventually moved out of their parents’ home to live on the street, where he felt safer. At the time the essay was written, Jay had been living on the streets for a year. The two had seen each other on occasion, but as Jay roamed farther away, he finally informed Ashley that he would stop calling; he didn’t want her to know his whereabouts.

The story highlights the difficulty of helping someone with a very severe mental health issue who does not want help. But as little as the reader knows about Jay’s experience, the essay sheds light on Ashley’s struggles. In her essay, Ashley notes that she sees a therapist to work through the guilt and helplessness that she feels about her brother’s struggle. “The more I try to help him, the more I lose myself,” she writes. She is not alone. Nationwide, tens of thousands of friends and family members are impacted by the mental illness of a loved one.

Helplessness, guilt, pain, and fear for the person’s well being are all very natural feelings in such a situation. They are legitimate emotions that need to be addressed. Studies show that people whose close family members have strong mental health issues are at higher risk for depression and anxiety themselves. Even grief counseling may be appropriate and beneficial, especially if the person’s condition has led to a loss of that relationship. There is always more that needs to be done to help people struggling with mental illness. Raising awareness about how it impacts friends and family is an important part of that movement.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Carla G.

    Carla G.

    July 30th, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    As my granny grew old,she lost her memory power slowly and was soon left with having to even carry her own address.My uncle,who was living along with her,loved her a lot and was always close to her.
    This degradation in granny’s condition made him so depressed that he had to be treated himself!I feel sorry for the people that are so concerned about others that they end up bringing hurt to themselves.

  • Charlotte


    August 1st, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    The lesson that I get from this story is that no matter how much you may want to help someone if they are not ready to help themselves then it is not the time to interfere. You have to be strong and know that you are doing what you can to help up to a linit but that there are some cases where that limit will allow you to go no further and you have to be ok with that. This does not mean that you have to stop caring about what happens to the person about whom you are concerned but it is a lesson that there is only so much that you may be able to do and that you can’t sit around and beat yourslef up for not being bale to do more. Some people are not ready fpr help, and some never will be. Just be there when they are and that is the best that can happen.

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