Some Questions
Answered

 

In the boxes below we try to answer some of the questions you may have about mental illness, and suggest ways that you and your family can help protect yourselves from the effects of mental illness.

If you have other questions which we have not answered here, you may be able to find more information here

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why is Mental Illness Difficult?

Illness in parents is always difficult, because the person who is there to look after you suddenly can’t do it, and you may have to be the ‘carer’ – the one who does the looking after – instead. This is always a bit confusing, but when a parent has a mental illness this can be even more confusing because:

1. She or he may not look ill or need to go to bed, although she or he may often (in some illnesses) not feel very energetic and look and behave tired.

2. The illness can affect how your Mum, Dad, or some other adult you rely on, thinks and feels about many things.

3. This change in his or her feelings may affect you, and make you wonder if it was because of something you did.

This website can help you to answer some of the many questions you are sure to have if you have a parent with a mental illness. It will explain about mental illness, some ideas about why it happens – as far as we know that – and what can help if you are living with someone who is mentally ill.

What is Mental Illness?

All of us face problems in life at some time. Sometimes they can make us upset; such as sad, angry or depressed. Of course all of us get depressed or unhappy and miserable at some time, but it usually passes in a few hours or a day or two. When it doesn’t or when there are things making us too anxious or too upset to manage, then a more ‘stuck’ depression can set in, or a person can become worried about many things, some of which may not really matter. That person may even worry about silly little things that you or even he or she would laugh about another time. Their sleep may be upset. They may even feel a bit ill physically or have headaches or other pains. Other ways that the same kind of worries can show themselves are not being able to concentrate or worrying about food.

These are mental health problems which can generally be overcome if you the person find someone to talk to who understands these things. Most people get through these times by talking with their families or friends, or – if they are younger – sometimes teachers and youth workers. Sometimes people who are feeling like this may need to talk to a specialist, or even take some medicine to help.

It is when these problems get a bit out of hand that people can begin to behave in rather extreme ways; sometimes not eating, hurting themselves, or behaving in ways which seem to be against other people.

How Do People With A Mental Illness Feel?

Sometimes depression gets bad so that the person can’t sleep properly, loses his or her appetite and doesn’t enjoy anything.
Sometimes the person worries so much that he or she doesn’t go out, can’t sleep and feels anxious all the time that bad things will happen.
Sometimes the person gets thoughts about keeping everything in order and has to do things, like activities such as too much washing, which he or she may believe will stop bad things from happening. These are called obsessive thoughts.
Sometimes the person can behave in a way that seems as if he or she doesn’t care about anyone else, and just wants to have things their way. This might mean that the person upsets other people but it may be that really he or she feels very unhappy inside him or herself, without really knowing why.

Sometimes when a person gets ill things can go beyond what we can normally understand. A person’s behaviour, as well as what they say may seem to just not make any sense.
The reason this happens is usually a mixture of different things – such as the way people are built or made up (like what they inherit in their genes), but this is always affected by how they live their lives (including stresses and strains such as losing a job or splitting up with a partner), as well as the kind of life they live when they are growing up.) It can also happen because their mind or brain gets overloaded – that is it cannot cope with or manage all the things going into it. We don’t exactly know why this happens to some people, but there are some ideas detailed in the other sections of this website.

How Does This Happen?

Here’s One Way Which Might Help You To Understand It:

>how does this happen

Here’s a brain inside the body. The blue lines are nerves which send messages to your muscles so you can move. They are called motor nerves. The red lines are also nerves, but they send messages back to the brain so you can feel what is happening. They are called sensory nerves. Try this experiment:

Close your eyes and make your arm and hand do several different movements. Then before you open your eyes, guess where the end of your finger tips will be. Open your eyes and see if you were right. Then close your eyes again and touch your left ear with your right hand. Did you manage it ? If you did it shows that the nerves you used are working well together. Your motor nerves told your hand where to go, but your sensory nerves told your brain where your hand was going. That’s good coordination. So the brain talks to the body and the body talks to the brain. Well the same thing also happens between the brain and the mind – or what you think.

You can make your brain concentrate on one thing or another, but if you try to think about too many things you can get very muddled and often can’t concentrate on any one of them. That’s why teachers often want to stop children from talking in class or from looking out of the window and so on. But most of us are really good at focussing even if there are lots of things going on. Try this experiment with three or more friends.:

Stand in a room and all talk at once. The amount of sound will be all the noise each one of you made added up. One friend should be selected (without the others knowing) to keep saying the name of one of the others, but no louder than the others. He or she will, probably hear their name quite soon, even though the other sounds were louder. This is because our brains can sift out or sieve out or filter out (whichever word you like best ) the things we need to pay attention to. Otherwise our minds would be overloaded and couldn’t work at all. We think that there is a part of the brain which does this job. But when someone has a severe mental illness they often can’t choose what to hear, so they hear everything. So you can see how their mind could then become very jumbled up and have strange thoughts and ideas which don’t fit. This can happen for three main reasons:

  1. their brain is just having to cope with too many ideas, worries, feelings and everything, so that it just can’t filter out what is important
  2. because in the person’s early life they have had just too many things to cope with, so that they have too many feelings and ideas going round and round inside their mind, to cope with any new ones
  3. because the bit of the brain that does the sifting out or filtering is not working properly. We do not know exactly why that happens to some people, but that part of the brain does seem to be a bit weaker in some families. That does not mean that those people have to get a mental illness, because it needs the other stresses for that to happen, and anyway there are ways to protect your brain from ‘overload’. In fact if your parent has had a severe mental illness, it is likely that he or she will have been given medication, and that medication will often be aimed at helping the brain ‘filter’ to cope.
Who Can I Go To If I Am Worried About My Relative’s Mental Health?

Often people who are mentally ill either don’t realise that they are getting ill or don’t want people to know about it – so they try their best to manage. This can put an enormous strain on the other members of the family. You can always go to your GP, but s/he may not be able to do anything against the wishes of your relative, unless they are becoming a danger to you and others. If this is the case don’t hesitate to ask for help.

You can also ask Social Services to help in either case. People worry that involving Social Services will mean that they are taken away from their parents, but this is the last thing Social Workers want to do. They will want to help you to manage in your own home, with the support of other members of your family.

You may feel very stressed out by your relative’s illness and the behaviour it produces. School nurses or school counsellors can be very helpful in talking all this through with you and being there if you need to get things off your chest.

If at any time you feel really frightened by your relative’s behaviour and you are unable to contact a doctor or a social worker you should dial 999. You may feel bad about this but it could be the only way to get the help your relative needs.

Special help:

It is possible that there may be a Kidstime group in your area, although at the moment there are only a few available in:

London: Camden and Islington, Westminster, and Hackney

North West UK: The Wirral, Birkenhead

West Country: Plymouth Excellence Cluster expected in September

See the page on Kidstime Workshops for details.

Others will follow soon

However joining a young carere’s group is always helpful, and usually lots of fun as well. You can find a map with all the young carer’s groups in the United Kingdom at this link:

http://www.youngcarer.com/young-carers-services

Will I Get Mentally Ill From Doing Drugs?

There is still not evidence that says that drugs actually cause permanent mental illness.

What looks to be more likely is that heavy drug use, and that includes alcohol, could affect your memory permanently. It is unwise to use cannabis heavily in your teenage years if you have a family member who has mental health problems, particularly schizophrenia, as some research studies show close links in these cases. There are other resources you can find which explain more about this.

Will I Inherit Mental Illness From My Relative?

Everyone has episodes in their lives which could trigger stress responses or make existing problems worse. Some of us cope better than others, a fact which depends on many things about our biological makeup and what happens in our early lives.

Although one in four of us may one day have some sort of diagnosable mental health problem in our life-time, very few of us will have a serious mental illness. Even if both your parents have mental illness you are still much more likely not to have mental illness yourself than you are to have it.

If you are worried at any time that you may have symptoms it is sensible to go straight away to your GP. Starting treatment early can really help in terms of keeping you well and able to function normally. However, talking to someone who you trust about the feelings inside you can help to protect you.