One of the biggest concerns that I hear from families is how they should deal with members of their families who struggle with mental health issues. This could include someone with schizophrenia, bipolar, or other mental illnesses. Or a family member might struggle with chemical dependency that alters their mental health and severely affects their behavior.

BRENTB-20160328-3357575011_7d3a5d6aef_oHow Do You Deal with a Mentally Ill Family Member?

I usually speak with the family about what their role is and how they can help? Often families may not recognize their loved ones. They may say that this is a “new” person. The behavior change may be temporary or permanent. Their behavior may be bizarre and off the wall, and their thinking may be totally out of touch with reality. Individuals who live with mental health issues may be gripped by fear and paranoia. Their family members may not know what to do with their loved ones, and all they want is to know how their loved ones can “get better.”

The “Black Sheep” of the Family

The first thing that I always ask families is how things are going. Sometimes individuals become the “black sheep” of the family and mental health is used as a way of making them a victim, or the “mental, crazy one.” This can occur either overtly or covertly. This means that the family may overtly state that they have mental health issues, or they may covertly treat them differently because of an “issue” that the individual has.

You Need Support in Dealing with Mental Health Issues

My first advice to the families of individuals who struggle with mental health is to get help and support. You as a family cannot do it on your own. Assisting a mentally ill family member is too difficult a task if you don’t have appropriate support.

Show Respect for Those Who Struggle

My next piece of advice to families is to express respect for the individual who is struggling with mental health issues. Think the old saying: “Treat them how you would want to be treated.” Everyone has a right to individual choice, and the laws of the land are set up in such a way that the individual’s rights outweigh the rights of the group. "Family Strolll," courtesy of PublicStay in Touch with Your Feelings

Always stay in touch with yourself and with what you are feeling. It’s okay to be honest about what is going on. If you experience fear, then there is an issue going on that will need to be addressed. Being honest with yourself and with others about what you are feeling is “okay” and “normal.” If you experience a safety concern and feel unsafe, then that is a sign that something is wrong. Our feelings are a great indicator of what might be happening. Ask yourself: “Why am I feeling this way? What types of behaviors or thoughts are they expressing that makes me concerned?”

Christian Counseling for Family Mental Health Issues

In another article, I will address how to check for safety and what you can do about it as a family member. However, if you have questions and can relate to any of the issues discussed in this article, reaching out is the first step. Christian counseling can provide a safe space in which to face your concerns and receive expert support from a trained therapist. The counselors at Millcreek Christian Counseling will walk with you on your journey towards family freedom, providing you with the skills you need to interact with your family member. The wholeness of your whole family is our goal at Millcreek Christian Counseling.

“Family Challenge Outing,” courtesy of Valerie Everett, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Family Stroll,” courtesy of PublicDomainImages,, CC0 Public Domain License


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