When mental illness strikes an adolescent or young adult in a family, there is shock, denial, and GUILT. Where did we go wrong? How can this be happening to our child?
Then the blame game begins. The mother thinks the father was too strict, too harsh on the child. The father thinks the mother was too soft on the child. If she would have just let me handle it my way, the child wouldn’t have these problems. Relatives, family members, and neighbors often think the parents enabled the child’s behavior. Think of all the times they got their child out of jail, Remember the child’s continued reckless behavior without regard for the consequences. Or they seemed do nothing about their child’s sadness, failing grades, and lack of motivation. If they had been better parents, this would not be happening.
When parents come to the NAMI Family-to-Family Education class, they often come with feelings of shame and guilt. When they begin to learn that mental illness is not something you can do to your child, they are relieved. They may still have regrets for the way they treated the child and the things they said to the child in an attempt to control their ways of thinking and behaving. However, they are continually reminded in the course that “you can’t know what no one has ever told you.”
As the course continues, they become convinced that mental illness is caused by brain disorders, disturbances in brain chemistry, genetic predisposition, and that mental illness is NOBODY’S FAULT. A parent cannot give a person a mental illness in the same way that one cannot give a person Diabetes, epilepsy, or an autoimmune disease, to name a few. These are illnesses that are caused by physical conditions beyond the control of the parent or the person with the condition.
A father cannot mistreat a child and cause the pancreas or nervous system to malfunction. A mother cannot control epilepsy by demanding that the child “stop shaking.” There is no point in the parent stomping their foot and telling the child to bring their blood sugar down “right this minute or you will be punished.”
Parents and the person with the illness need to have this atmosphere of shame lifted. They should understand that they haven’t done anything wrong to cause this mental illness. Once they realize that mental illness is a No Fault Illness, they can be free to work toward recovery.
Announcements will be forthcoming about the Family-to-Family course to be offered the first part of February and the Peer-to-Peer course for the person with the mental illness, which will be announced at a later date.
Marion Bono, a member of NAMISWLA, facilitates a support group and teaches the Family-to-Family course, from which these articles are taken.