Dear Barb—A Condition of Family

Dear Barb:

I look forward to reading your column as often as I can.  Recently my younger brother was diagnosed with a mental illness.  We always knew there was something different about him, but we hoped he would outgrow it.  He seems to have gotten worse over the years, very unstable; some days he seems okay and the next he is totally out of whack.  As a family we want to support him, but most days he rejects us, by either withdrawing or lashing out.  His behaviour is very difficult for all us especially my mom.  When Jamie has a good day, mom thinks he will be okay, then the next day, he is seeing things and yelling at every one.  How are family members suppose to deal with this?  We need some support and advice, can you help? Rebecca.

Hi Rebecca:

Thanks for taking the time to write.  I’m sorry your brother and your family have to go through this.  I also had a sister with mental illness and it was a very challenging and stressful experience for everyone.  A person living with a psychiatric disorder may push family members beyond their tolerance level, even though they try their best to support the person.  Your emotions will go from compassion and concern all the way to anger and frustration, which can lead to feelings of guilt.  Keep the lines of communication open.  Watch for times when your brother is calm and receptive and take the time to sit down and talk about his feelings, or what is bothering him.  Also take the time to go for a walk, or to a movie with your brother, sometimes just being with a person is the best medicine.  At the times when your brother seems open, try to discuss his diagnosis, but if you notice him becoming agitated, don’t pursue it, just let it go.  When the time is right and he is ready to discuss it, ask if he would be interested in doing some research to learn more about his condition and how to manage it.  Offer to go to doctor’s appointments with him.  It is most important to support your brother so that he does not feel alone with his condition.  You also need to recognize that your brother may not be ready to accept help or even believe there is anything wrong with him.  At that point there is really nothing you can do.  You cannot force someone to get treatment.  An individual has the right to decide if they want to accept help or refuse it.   There is only so much you can do and it is essential that you and your family members take care of yourselves.  If the situation is becoming more than you can handle reach out to health care professionals, such as your family doctor, to find out what resources are available for you and your family.

Best of luck Rebecca, all you can do is your best.

Email your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality; your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.