We would all like to think that in ill health that our family, friends and our colleagues would be there for help and support. We grow up with the attitude that good manners is to always be honest and truthful, an most of all that our families will provide us with an environment that they can talk about anything without recrimination.
Unfortunately there are some of us who don’t receive the love and support in ill health that we thought we may get. It is the ill health of mental illness that some family and friends choose not to understand, decide to isolate and unfairly treat their loved ones by. But for some it doesn’t even get as far as family members knowing that one of us suffer a mental illness. For some stigma is inbred into family culture, attitude and behaviour driving family members who are mentally ill into a world of loneliness, shame and darkness that compounds the effects of mental illness on their life. I know that in my life the events and the circumstances that have surrounded my life from my mental illness have been shrouded in secrecy.
The fact is no matter the illness, the circumstances or who it involves, we all deserve that our family, friends and colleagues should provide us with an environment that is supportive. If your family turns their back on you when you are ill then at the end of the day who do you really have? If we can’t rely on our family for help and support no matter the cost then who can we rely on? If we can’t talk openly to family about our problems and about our ill health how are we ever going to be able to look our illness in the face and fight to survive? If our family don’t want to understand us then how can we expect anyone to do so?
It happens more often than any of us would like to think, families walk away from a family member who is ill, more often when someone is mentally ill. For some the fear of family rejection that comes from being mentally ill is too much and they live in secrecy hiding their pain, illness and the loneliness that comes from not being able to talk about their ill health. This forced isolation compounding their illness and affecting not just their mental health but their confidence, their sense of belonging and driving complete helplessness.
When we talk about stigma that is attached to mental illness in our society there are not many of us who think that we have been directly affected by stigma. Yet there are so many who are mentally ill that have nobody there to support them, who live in isolation and who can’t cope with their illness because those who should be there strength are not there. At the core of this is stigma, is not just a problem attached to an illness but a problem entrenched in society, culture, attitudes, behaviours, but most of all in individuals.
In more individuals than we thought, until we are diagnosed with a mental illness and we are forced into a world of isolation, inequality and misunderstanding, not from our community but from those who are meant to be there no matter what!
How do we respond to such isolation and rejection not from misbehaviour but because we had the misfortune of being one in five people who live with a mental illness? You can’t force anyone to stand by you, all you have is the knowledge that those who care and love you will be there for you when you are sick. We can all get past it if it’s someone from work or if it’s a friend but when it is family it stabs you right in the heart and it doesn’t just leave you alone it leaves you with so much more when it is thrown on top of a mental illness.
If there is one thing that I have taken away from my experience of living with a mental illness and the hurt and isolation of my family walking away, it is those that really matter will be there for you. You don’t have to share blood to find who is your ‘real’ family. Around you there may be less people but in the few that remain there will always be strength in numbers. For those who feel they can not talk to their family about their mental illness, I completely understand, but if you never talk because of your fear you will never know what they have in them and their support for you, if it doesn’t work out there will always be someone who will stand up and give to you what you need to look mental illness in the face and say ‘you won’t beat me!’