The role of family in mental illness recovery.

I could hardly believe the commonality of so many conversations had this week among people at work, at church and in my leisure time. We all share the same thing in common… someone we know and love has a mental health diagnosis or is in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

I bet anyone reading this knows at least one person (and dare I say a handful of people) affected by mental illness:

anxiety disorders





drug addiction

eating disorders

Two days before having all these relevant personal conversations I was perusing the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Web site, of which I became a member this year. There are always great articles with new research, clinical treatments and support groups available to individuals with diagnoses, clinicians, care-takers, guardians or family members. If you or someone you know is facing the challenges of a mental health diagnosis, I highly suggest you take a look at NAMI.

It is an abundant resource for a difficult subject.

The point of this blog is just to share that there are resources available for knowing how to handle and cope with a mental health diagnosis. NAMI is an excellent educational resource on mental health diagnosis and the journey of healing.

Mental illness can be a taboo topic – mostly because it’s mysterious, mirky and difficult to comprehend – but the national spotlight has been turned on mental healthcare in the wake of incidents of gun violence that have left so many lives shattered and so many people asking, “Why was nothing done sooner… how could it come to this?”

This is not to say that all mental health diagnoses escalate into extreme violence. These are complex, isolated incidents. Mental health diagnoses can run the gamut from very treatable mild situational anxiety to difficult and often destructive sociopathic personality disorder. (This is not an example of an actual mental health spectrum.)

I repeat, not all people with mental health diagnoses are dangerous. I repeat, there is often hope, healing and positive symptom management when family is involved in the proper care.

People suffering with mental illness have a diagnosis they are not their diagnosis. In other words, their entire identity is not based off of the diagnosis. It is a name for a dysfunction. Once a dysfunction is named it can be treated and managed. (i.e. Louis has bipolar 1 disorder not Louis is bipolar or Louis is nuts or Louis is off-his-rocker.)

The language with which we speak about our loved one with a mental health diagnosis is very important.

Family cannot always understand the why of mental illness. Family cannot always fix the mental illness. Family is the closest to the diagnosed individual and often find it difficult to separate themselves from this person’s identity or perhaps from a deeply ingrained dysfunctional cycle or relational dynamic based off of the diagnosis.

If coping with a mental health diagnosis within your family, the best thing you can do is learn as much about the illness as possible and find healthy ways for yourself to cope with the diagnosis and the potential implications of the illness.

“Families often feel anxious and bear feelings of guilt that they are the cause of the problem. Denial of the illness is a natural response at first. Grief and recognition follow with the reality that this is an illness that is here to stay. Families are an extremely important component of the recovery process, and their roles are complex. Families need to learn how to meaningfully participate in recovery and realize that their acceptance will positively impact how a loved one responds.The Family Role in Recovery: Understanding the Illness and Embracing the Process by Wendy Brennan, M.S., NAMI New York City Metro Executive Director

It is difficult for family and friends to understand and cope with a loved one’s diagnosis.

But with greater care…

Greater research…

Greater reach…

Greater understanding…

There is greater hope.



7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

That’s why I share my story. I believe mental illness will be handled differently in the future. It’s possible to come out the other side, too. 🙂

Comment by lauriesnotes

You bet it is possible, Laurie! I love reading your posts. It is very brave of you. Healing often takes a willingness and courage, which in this posts case, is aided by the support, understanding and receptiveness of family. Unfortunately, not everyone has a family like this so willing to embrace the trial and keep walking in love. Anyone struggling with unsupportive relatives really must reach out for professional help or to a trusted friend.

Comment by simplyenjoy

It’s a good thing there are people willing to reach back and offer help.
That also takes some strength. I’m finding that out.
Thanks for visiting my site.
Much love-

Comment by lauriesnotes

That was an excellent post today. Thanks so much for sharing it. I
really enjoyed reading it very much. You have a wonderful day!

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Comment by Writing Jobs

Thanks for stopping by and for the comment! And Laurie, definitely takes strength to reach out, but it does take strength to receive as well sometimes. Or maybe not so much receive help but to surrender control and admit you cannot do something on your own… which can often feel very difficult. A lot of people who suffer a mental diagnosis feel very alone – this can be a symptom of the illness… feeling alone even when surrounded by people. Again, very important for people to see a professional or confide in a trusted person if they struggle with continuous feelings like this.

Comment by simplyenjoy

True. I know many people who deal with many of these. It’s sad. But yes, there is hope. With love, there is hope.

Comment by Jessica

Good word, Jessica! What is very sad sometimes is to watch a loved one remain “stuck” and not recognize that help and love is available for the taking and that healing is truly possible with the right care.

Comment by simplyenjoy

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