Communicating Mental Health Issues with Your Family

It was in 2015 when our journey with mental illness started. That was when my daughter, who was 17 years old at the time, finally decided to tell us that she felt the need to see a psychiatrist.

Expressing a mental health related concern is never easy: it requires determination and bravery on her end to be able to convey it.

Battling with the “monster” or “dark shadow” inside her head was truly exhausting for her. I saw her agony, enduring the clamor happening inside her head every single day. The many sleepless nights, negative emotions and perceptions sneaking through her mind and system day in and day out. As a mother and a teacher I felt that something was not right. Something was off, and the trouble continued as time went on.

I had expressed to her and my husband the idea of seeing a health professional when she was around 15 years old, but unfortunately, they swept the problem under the rug. Her terrible mood swings and unlimited energy were somewhat bothersome, which reinforced the idea that there really must be something off with her.  I respected their decision of not seeking help from a doctor, but as the days progressed, my desire to address the problem got stronger. True enough, we found out eventually that she was already harming herself by cutting/slashing her wrists.

Struggling with your mental illness alone is a battle that is difficult to overcome. In our case, Aleia decided to keep the struggle to herself early on because she was afraid –

  • Afraid of seeing our reactions
  • Afraid of disappointing us, her parents
  • Afraid of her feelings being invalidated or not being taken seriously
  • Afraid of being asked questions which might be difficult for her to answer, like sensitive issues as harassment or molestation
  • Afraid of becoming an additional burden.
  • Afraid of being the reason for the struggle, of one or both of us, her parents
  • Afraid that we might not listen or believe in her.

Fear happens when stigma on mental illness sets in. Stigma is one of the major factors why people are tight-lipped about mental illness. How did we address her fears?

My personal experience taking care of her taught me that communication and family are essential in facing any adversity in life, but most especially in dealing with mental health-related issues.

Communication is critical; immediate and proper management of the condition depend on it in the hope of being able to reach recovery. Communication is vital for her to endure the challenges she will definitely encounter due to condition. Communication is necessary for people around her to understand that what she’s going through is tough, exhausting, and difficult to grasp.

In our case, my daughter was able to tell us her dilemma with her mental health before it got  too late. She had already started harming herself; fortunately we were able to notice it. Suppressed emotions and predicaments can lead to self-harm, or worse, suicide.

Despite a parent’s boundless love for his or her child, lack of proper communication between parents and children can result in misunderstanding. Parents could struggle seeking to understand their child, while the child can become frustrated at feeling misunderstood or not listened to. Miscommunication could complicate the problem. Thus, both parties need to cooperate to communicate well. Indeed, hearing your child say that she needs to see a psychiatrist can catch you off-guard. We needed to affirm our child that she has been heard and act immediately. Here are some life skills we applied in handling the situation:

1. Silence

As a former Benedictine educator, I have imbibed in me the value of Silence. That when we are quiet that is when we can hear the voice of God talking to us, telling us what to do. Since I am not a psychologist nor psychiatrist by profession, I react to situations based on my personal experiences and maternal instinct. When my daughter told us that she needed to see a psychiatrist we immediately sought help from a friend in the medical field who referred us to a good Psychiatrist. Finally, the diagnosis was revealed to us. Aleia is suffering from a mental condition called Bipolar II Disorder. On our way home after the diagnosis has been given we allowed silence to engulf us. Everyone was quiet as if you could hear a needle dropping on the floor. Each of us were quietly praying, talking to God asking Him to guide us on this new journey, a journey that would truly change our lives forever.

2. Listening

We had finally decided to talk about it and started to work on the next best step. We allowed Aleia to talk and tell us her innermost feelings. No one dared to interrupt her, we listened to her. We gave her a chance to be heard. We listened without judgement, we listened in order for us to understand what she’s going through. We listened with the ear of our hearts because we want to help our daughter. We want her to feel that we are here for her and will always be with her no matter what.

After being able to hear and understand each other’s take on the situation, we made the decision to continue seeking help. The psychiatrist and the psychologist helped us in moving forward, those two doctors worked hand in hand in order to come up with the most effective management that they can give Aleia.

3. Patience

I am not a perfect parent. I am also a work in progress, I am still learning from our daily struggles with regards to mental health. Patience is probably the most essential armor one must have in order to win the battle with mental illness. Patience goes both ways, Aleia must show patience with herself and her episodes. On the other hand, parents must have an unlimited supply of patience to be able to understand everything that’s been going on whenever she’s on the depressive mood or on her manic episodes/phase.

4. Humility

Humility is defined by Merriam Webster as the absence of pride. The condition of being humble. In dealing with mental health or illness, sense of pride is definitely not helpful. Experience taught me that humility is a value one must have in order to understand and be able to survive the daily challenges in dealing with mental health. Stigma surrounding mental health will definitely test your sense of humility. Several times people who you thought you could rely on are the ones who will give you heartache because of their words and actions. But focusing on the issue, which is my daughter’s mental illness, we have learned to disregard and brushed it off whenever we hear uncalled for reactions from other people. However, disregarding peoples lack of understanding on mental illness pushed us to become advocates for mental health. Therapy, daily medication, and the regular visit to the psychiatrist dried up our well of resources which made me ask for help from our family and friends especially during the early part of her management.

5. Resiliency

Resiliency is the capacity to stand up and move forward after a setback. As a mother I needed to stay strong and act as a stronghold of my family. Many times I have thought of giving up, many times I have asked God “Why is this happening to my daughter?” But my deep faith in Him tells me that I must be strong and continue moving forward for all the struggles that’s been happening in my life and in my daughter’s life will have its end. And in all the battles that has been going on with us for the past four years since Aleia’s diagnosis will turn into God’s blessings.

6. Stability

Is defined as the capacity of an individual to stay firm despite adversities.

In all our years of struggles, through all the difficulties that we’ve experienced with mental illness and its repercussions, my husband and I encountered problems as well. Problems which tested the power of our relationship. But seeing my daughter courageously surpassing every single ordeal that stems from her mental health, brings me back to the reality that we have to work and face this life’s challenge as a family and as a couple.

Our Faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in each other was shaken…but I believe that because of our profound love and care for our family, for our children, and for each other, it strengthened our determination to face all the battles together. And we know that one day – it might not be soon – but one day we will stand triumphant because we have fought a good fight with God on our side.

Communicating Mental Health Issues with Your Family |
The author with her daughter, Aleia

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