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The social environment: find community

Mental disturbance in a family member takes a heavy toll. It absorbs energy of not only the afflicted person but also of each family member, whether adult or child. Although each member will react in his or her individual way, the illness can readily consume all of the family space. The burdens and challenges of the situation can leave each person feeling isolated and with a sense that his or her own needs are unrecognized. Professional institutions, in their primary concern with the “sick” member, most often provide little or no support for other family members. It is not only within the family that isolation can occur. The stresses of care taking – and often the sense of stigma that is still associated with mental illness – may lead to withdrawal and isolation from the broader social community.

It is especially at this time that the family needs support. Because of the stigma that is sometimes attached to families of mental health clients it may be difficult to be open about the need for support. This need is not a matter of psychotherapy – although that might be useful for some families or family members. What we are referring to here is rather a matter of finding a sustaining environment. Such an environment could consist of other families with similar problems, an environment in which participants can explore and help one another with modes of coping and survival. Or, it could be simply the cultivation of friends who provide resources that reflect the guiding principles discussed above. Families with a mentally ill member can also achieve gratification and enrich their own lives by helping others who are in the same boat. Families differ, and each must find the kind of community resources that will enhance its own capacity for individual and conjoint happiness.