When a Loved One Doesn’t Understand Mental Illness

doesnt understand mental illness

When a Loved One Doesn’t Understand Mental Illness

The other day I posted an article suggesting ways you can tell your family and friends that you have a mental illness. What do you do, however, if they don’t understand? I’ve been in enough support groups to learn that many people, unfortunately, have loved ones who don’t get it. Some may refuse to accept that you have a mental illness, while others refuse to believe that mental illness even exists. If this has happened in your case you may be feeling hurt, misunderstood and alone. Here are some ideas which you may use and hopefully make them understand what you are going through.

Tell Them in a Way That They May Understand

I have a friend who was there for me as my life spiraled out of control. He was loving and supportive, but admitted he didn’t understand. He said he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just shake it off. I tried various ways to help him grasp it, but nothing worked until I put it in a way that he could relate. I asked my friend if he’s ever been to a party and felt like he didn’t belong. Did he feel isolated like he was in a bubble watching the party go on around him? His response was “Of course. I think everyone feels that from time to time.” My response back to him was short and simple. I said, “I live in that bubble.” He cocked his head, grimaced, then grinned and said, “That makes sense.” He still didn’t completely grasp the idea, but I finally planted a seed. A big seed as a matter of fact.

I’m sure, based on your diagnosis, you can come up with similar analogies to help explain to those in your life. They may not get it right away, but it’s a good place to start.

Have a Group Therapy Session

Ask your therapist if you can bring your family with you on your next visit. If she says no, you may want to consider getting a new therapist. Your therapist has spent a lot of time explaining your disorder to many people. Maybe she can get through to them in a way you weren’t able.

Suggest a Book

Go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and search for a book about your diagnosis for your loved one to read. When I search for “bipolar” on Amazon, the search returned with 28,464 results. Many of them are highly rated.

Suggest Some Blogs

If you can’t get your friends or family to sit down with a book, maybe they’ll spend a little time reading the web. There’s a certain little blog that I know of which would be a good start. Seriously, though, nothing brings a smile to my face quicker than an email from a family member of a person with mental illness who thanks me for helping them understand. I’ve received many. I’m sure many other blogs could say the same.
For an extensive list of mental health blogs, check out Blog For Mental Health 2014.

Other Websites That May be Helpful

Actress, Glenn Close, has a sister with bipolar and a nephew with schizophrenia. Having such close associations with mental illness led her to co-found Bring Change 2 Mind. This website offers a simple page of factual information, videos, individual stories and even a store.

Check out “You’ve Got This” at Healthline.com. “You’ve Got This” is a large selection of reader submitted videos about living with bipolar disorder. My only concern with this site is that some of the videos over-promise. Some say that you can have the same life as anyone else. Some say that you’ll be able to go back to work. Those are just two examples and neither of which are true for everyone, The videos are links from YouTube, so I would suggest finding videos you like in advance and show them to your loved ones directly on YouTube.

There is another blog that I highly recommend named Stigma Fighters. I have listed it under websites because it is so extensive. Featured on Good Day New York and Psychology Today, Stigma Fighters has dozens of testimonials from individuals with various forms of mental illness. You can find mine listed under Bradley S. This is a site I highly recommend because of the frank and honest postings.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Since 1979, NAMI has provided support for those with mental disorders and their friends and families. In addition to offering discussion groups, they offer 12 Session courses for family members, partners and friends of someone living with a mental illness. NAMI has helped thousands over the years. The NAMI website has a search feature to find a chapter in your area.

Some May Never Get It

I hope these ideas help. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you won’t get through to them. They will either not understand or will refuse to understand. Try to be patient and allow them to process any information you provide them. You owe it to yourself to be quietly optimistic. On the other hand, should the relationship become abusive, then the only thing you may want to be quiet about is getting the hell out of there. I am not a doctor or therapist so I can’t suggest the best way to do this, but talk with your therapist. He should be able to make recommendations on how you should proceed.

16 comments on When a Loved One Doesn’t Understand Mental Illness

    1. I’ll see if I can add more LIKE buttons. Is that possible with WordPress? Thank you, kat, for the compliment

  1. My Father refused to believe that I was suffering from multiple mental issues until the “life choice” email I mentioned a few comments ago. I immediately rattled off a one line email: “Having Bipolar disorder and bathing one’s brain daily in anti-psychotic medications is NOT a ‘life choice’!” I then proceeded to send him 2 more much longer emails detailing graphically what life is like with Bipolar and other anxiety issues.

    I think he may finally believe, and is trying to understand. It’s just too bad that it took misspoken words and my anger to make him see it.

    1. I’m sorry you had a difficult time with your father. If this was after you were first diagnosed, it’s probably when you needed him most. Glad to see that he may be coming around. I wish you the best.

      1. He seems to be. The book Quiet about the two basic personality types showed up in my mailbox quite unexpectedly. He knows I love to read, but I wonder sometimes if he isn’t trying to tell me something about himself. He never was good with emotions, but a request for a research grant? That he was/is good at

        Part of the note that came along with the book reads: It provided some interesting insights into my own personality and made me realize, yet again, that all of us are pretty complex organisms. (I thought that was an interesting statement, and could be seen as a tacit ackowledgment of my “conditions”.)

    1. Thank you, Janet. I love the name of the website, “You don’t look sick” It looks like an excellent resource and I look forward to when I get a chance to really check it out.

  2. Shortly after being diagnosed I had a talk with my brother (I suspect he might be bipolar too) and told him why I was hospitalized. Rather than being supportive he said the wrong thing. Apparently I was seeking attention and that I was smart enough to fool the doctors. That was over 5 yeas ago. I know that he can never be the brother I need.

    1. I’m very sorry your brother doesn’t get it. I’ve learned that the need for attention is a rather common accusation family members maker. (sigh) Sure is a lot of work to get a little attention.

      1. Yes, but that is his problem not mine. My suffering didn’t have a name until 5 years ago. I have a way to cope now. I have a way to live without so much pain.

    1. Thank you for having such an awesome site. You should feel proud of the work you’ve done creating Stigma Fighters and the other advocacy work you’ve done. I also want to think you for the link to my story. I’ love telling my story – I’m my favorite subjuct

  3. Very important subject. I think I am very lucky in that my very immediate family understands, to a degree. Do they really get it? Not even close. Have they figured out the right and wrong things to say? Yes. Sometimes we get what we can take.

    1. I’m so happy to read that your family supports you. I don’t believe anyone can really get it, but as long as they’re trying the best they can.

  4. I’ve rarely encountered anyone that hasn’t either changed drastically towards me, used it against me or disappeared when I told them about my depression, hence I ain’t telling anyone SHIT about my having BDP. Sometimes it’s best not to show the whites of your eyes…

    1. I’m so sorry to read this. Sadly, I’ve met far too many that have had similar situations. I had a partner once who used it against me. Whenever we had an argument, his first words would be, “Did you take your meds.” Whether or not I had it didn’t matter, because regardless of whether or not I’d taken them, I was the crazy one and therefore argument was over as far as he was concerned. Fortunately the rest of the people in my life have been supportive.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: