Family Expectations and Mental Illness

June 21, 2021 Nicola Spendlove

Family expectations can be draining for a lot of reasons. Depending on what kind of family you come from, there's a whole bunch of different unwritten rules about the type of life you "should" live. My brother's mental illness challenged our family expectations in a major way, and when I reflect on it I see that he changed our family culture for the better.

I don't know about your family, but there's a certain "life script" that my brother and I were expected to follow growing up. Go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a decent job, start a steady get the picture.

Mental Illness Challenges Family Expectations

My brother's chronic mental illness meant him dropping out of college not once, but twice. It forced him to go on long-term sick leave from his job. It meant that he stayed living with my parents past the age people are "expected" to move out. 

This forced my family to step back and take a good hard look at why the idea of straying from implicit family expectations was so jarring. Who were we trying to impress?

Rather than spending our lives passively obsessing over values that we don't even know the reason for, we've intentionally drawn up new family expectations. Nowadays, we as a family want to focus on what makes each person healthy and happy, rather than how closely our lives stick to one definition of "success". 

Addressing Family Expectations Benefits Everyone

It's been amazing what this re-evaluation of family expectations has done for each family member. The pressure was taken off my brother to go the traditional schooling route, and if I may throw in a humble brag here, he just came top of his class in an online degree program.

This change of expectations has given me permission to do things my way. I recently quit a well-paid job for something riskier but more in line with my passions. My family were thrilled for me. If it wasn't for my brother shaking up our narrow perspective, I don't think I would have ever had the courage to make a choice like that.

I don't write this to put a pretty bow on my brother's mental illness and act like it's all happy life lessons. I write this to show that oftentimes, it's societal expectation that needs to change rather than the person with the mental illness -- and this starts in the home.

What are your experiences of family expectations and mental illness? Leave a comment and let's talk.

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2021, June 21). Family Expectations and Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Nicola Spendlove

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