ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Value of a Caring Family

By Jack Bragen
Thursday May 24, 2012 - 05:00:00 PM

There are numerous sad stories of a schizophrenic person wandering the streets, incarcerated, or missing because of not receiving adequate treatment for their disease. Family members stand by and watch with horror as these misfortunes befall their relatives. 

But for those who ultimately do accept treatment, the support of a caring family is often essential if someone is to fight off the worst of their illness and have a good outcome. 

Having a good family is no guarantee that someone will recover from mental illness. By the same token, the illness was never created by a deficiency in the family. However, having a supportive and caring family is always a help. The person with schizophrenia or bipolar absorb this help on some level even when they can't recover from their acute illness and show their appreciation. 

I remember having my eighteenth birthday party while locked up in Gladman Mental Hospital. My parents, brothers and sister were all there and they brought a cake. It was my most memorable birthday, although it was during one of my most difficult times. 

I recall a few months later when my illness was in a remission, how they tried very hard to get me to be medication compliant, and I wouldn't do it. I didn't realize, at the time, what I had just put them through. If I had been compliant, what a difference it might have made! (As it was, I relapsed after another year and needed to be back on medication.) 

Family members have assisted me materially when I was dealing with the aftermath of psychotic episodes and was trying to put my life back together. They have assisted me when I was in trouble. They have been a source of encouragement and support. They have given me a reason why I should get better instead of giving up. 

A caring family will not cure mental illness the same as it will not cure cancer, heart disease or kidney disease. However, having such a family helps a person heal faster and helps a person become well. The path without a supportive family is much harsher and much lonelier. 

As I get older, I no longer take for granted being cared for by family, and I begin to focus on giving back. My parents are getting older, and my siblings have started their own families. And I have also gotten married. 

Having a wife at my side is another blessing that I shouldn't take for granted. Her care and companionship have helped me stay in remission and stay out of trouble for sixteen years now. This is no small feat for someone who suffers from my disease. 

I only hope that if one of my relatives needs my help, I will be there to assist and support them in the same way that I have been helped. 

It was a source of tremendous joy when I brought with me family members to an event in which I was awarded a Community Service Award. It was something that paid us back for the years of pain we endured when I was worse off. It was also helpful to have someone else deal with the aggravation of driving there, which made me free to deal with the nervousness of getting ready for the event.