As part of a Salon.com 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 GoodTherapy.org.
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