It's Important for Family to Understand Mental Illness

September 6, 2021 Nicola Spendlove

In my job as a pediatric occupational therapist, I spend a lot of time focusing on parent education. I find that building a parental understanding of a child's condition is the single most important factor in improving that child's quality of life. I'm beginning to learn that the same is true in mental illness – the level of understanding and compassion that family (or other relevant supporters) have for a person's mental illness has a huge bearing on their experience.

Education Improves Your Family's Understanding of Mental Illness

The families that come to me are usually looking for a clear intervention plan -- set in stone strategies that they can use to "treat" the affected person. Oftentimes, the education piece actually is the intervention. Once they see their child through a different lens, they no longer feel the same urge to "fix" them. Suddenly, they become an advocate for the world to accept their child exactly as they are.

Transforming the way you look at a person automatically changes the way you behave towards them. Changing your behavior towards a person changes your relationship with them. Changing your relationship with a person can have a domino effect on other aspects of their life. You see what I'm getting at here.

Educate Yourself on Mental Illness

I'm always trying to educate myself on the latest information on my brother's mental health condition. You'll frequently find me with my head in a book or article about depression or watching a documentary about anxiety treatment. This isn't because I want to know more than everyone else or pass some sort of quiz on mental illness. It's because I want to keep my perspective in check and let that color my behavior.

The more I read about how depression can affect sleep patterns, the less likely I am to lose my temper at my brother for sleeping through his alarm when we were meant to do something together. The more I learn about how intrusive thoughts can completely take over a person's brain, the less hurt I feel when my brother forgets my birthday. Of course, it's not a "cure," but it makes my brother's life a bit easier when I make an effort to understand his mental illness.

I don't mean to oversimplify things here. I get that all the education in the world isn't going to make a mental illness "better" or take away a loved one's struggles with mental illness. I just see in my work life every day how much it matters to have someone in your corner who's compassionate and gets why you find certain things hard. I think we all deserve that, even when we're adults.

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2021, September 6). It's Important for Family to Understand Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Nicola Spendlove

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Lizanne Corbit
September, 7 2021 at 10:14 pm

It's wonderful to see posts like these, family support and education really are so important. As you said, it's sometimes just about knowing that you have someone in your corner who's making the effort and showing that level of compassion. It can be surprising just how much that can do.

September, 9 2021 at 8:13 am

Absolutely -- even though a supportive family will never fully understand the lived experience of mental illness, the very act of TRYING to understand speaks volumes!

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