Handout O

What Should We Tell Family Members and Friends?

As much or as little as you want!

If you want others to better understand mental illness, the following pieces of information can be helpful:
  1. Although the exact causes of mental illness are not yet known, many illnesses have a strong biological / genetic component.
  2. Mental illness is very common! Over 6 million Americans suffer from mental illness, and psychiatric patients take up more hospital beds than patients with cancer, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease combined.
  3. Mental illness affects thinking, behavior, feeling and judgment.
  4. The course of mental illness is often unpredictable, as symptoms can come and go for no apparent reason.
  5. There are no known cures or easy ways to prevent mental illness - but doctors can help some of the symptoms with medications and therapies. The side effects of some medications can be unpleasant.
  6. Mental illness can be quite severe and chronic. They often have a strong impact, both emotionally and financially, on the ill person and those close to them. Therefore, these people need a great deal of support and understanding.
  7. Mental illness is not contagious.
  8. Individuals with mental illness are rarely dangerous; rather, they generally tend to fear people and be quite introverted.

What Should We Tell the Children?
  1. You are not to blame - you didn't do anything wrong!
  2. We don't have all of the answers, but we can deal with this situation together. You can be helpful to your parent - and here's how….(give specific behaviors children can do).
  3. Both parents love you and will be here for you to the best of our abilities.
  4. It's ok to ask questions.
  5. Please tell us how you feel.
  6. Provide information (at an age-appropriate level) about the illness, such as "What is it? Will I get it? Will my parent get better? What are the risks that my children may get it some day?"
  7. Foster supportive relationships for the child with people outside the immediate family. It's important for the child to have a good support system of friends and other activities outside the family.
  8. Children should not be promised that the parent will get well and stay well forever.

Parts adapted from When someone you love has a mental illness by R. Woolis (1992).

Support And Family Education:
Mental Health Facts for Families
Michelle D. Sherman, Ph.D.