Mental Illness

Coping with a Mentally Ill Parent



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A book that is based on the personal experience of a child of a mentally ill person is, "My Mother, the Queen of Sheba" by Jacki Lyden. It is written by the daughter of a Bipolar patient. Jacki describes all the ups and downs of her life due largely to her mother's behavior. She experienced a delusional mother who thought she was the Queen of Sheba and the Virgin Mary. Jacki saw erratic, impulsive behavior and had a mom that dressed inappropriately and flamboyantly. Now that she is an adult, her mother is more stable and she has been able to accept her mother as she is now and as she was.

It is hard for a child to deal with a physically ill parent but do deal with a mentally ill parent is even more difficult. A child may be embarassed or depressed about having a mentally ill parent. A chronically mentally ill parent may be paranoid, impulsive and resistive to help.

One of the best things is to have a family meeting with a doctor, therapist or treatment team and the family. Problems can be brought out in the open and they can be dealt with. Sometimes family members respond better to professionals.

If you are the caregiver of a mentally ill parent, you need to get away from the situation at times. Take breaks and have some time for relaxation. You may need to get a person in to help care for the parent or to relieve you of some of the tasks.
The parent may need respite care or Day Hospital.

If you don't live with the parent, evaluate the ADL's (activities of daily living). Is he able to take his medications, come for treatment, or keep up his apartment? If not, what can be done? Can he have someone come in to help several days a week?
You can see what insurance allows and what programs are available. Are there home health nurses who can come and evaluate the situation and give meds? Are there aids who can come in and spend time with him and help with tasks?

Someone who knows the patient needs to touch base with him by phone, or in person, once or twice a week. This helps the parent know he is cared about and it helps others evaluate him.

A chronically mentally ill parent can be very demanding and manipulative. He may place guilt trips on children when he does not get his way. It is necessary to set limits. If you have been to Dad's house 3 times today, you do not feel you have to go 3 more times. Often he will not be happy if you go the extra mile. Then it will be something else.

Communication should be short and to the point. Clarify that the parent knows what you have said. If necessary, you may have to write a note for him. It might say, "Jean will pick you up tomorrow."

If your parent has recently become mentally ill, it is important to know the cause. Is it a transient problem? Perhaps he fell and hurt his head, he may have a fever, perhaps he is dehydrated. Urinary Tract Infection is the main cause for confusion in the elderly. If he has moderate to severe depression or other sudden mental problem, it often requires an emergency room trip or a doctor's visit. After evaluation, the treatment depends upon the cause of the problem.

All people do not get Alzheimers or depression or senility as they get older.
Remember there are many support groups at local hospitals. There are Bipolar groups, Alzheimers groups, Depression groups, internet support groups and there is NAMI, (National Association of Mentally Ill) for families and patients.

Family members and parents need someone to talk to and it could be an understanding clergyman, friends, professionals Consider therapy yourself if you are too stressed or can't cope.

Good communication, patience, evaluation, persistence and support can help in coping with a mentally ill parent.

More about this author: Sally Hall

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