The older I get, the more I realize that mental illness is something that a lot of people in my family struggle with. I’m not just saying “my family is weird” because honestly I think all families are in their own way, but there are a lot of diagnosed (and some undiagnosed) mental illnesses that have taken advantage of the people I love.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one-in-five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. Additionally, many studies find that having relatives with mental illness can put you at a higher risk for having a mental illness yourself.
Growing up, I always knew that my father’s mother was different than the other adults in my life. She has never been able to take care of herself and has always been socially inept. When I was a teenager and originally diagnosed with Dysthmia and generalized anxiety, the conversation started with my mom about my paternal grandmother. I eventually had the opportunity to ask my father about her medical issues and the only answer he had for me was “she is bat-sh** crazy.” Mental illness has never been understood or accepted on his side of the family. He told me that she has mental illness, but he doesn’t know what diagnosis she has.
As I became an adult and was a part of “adult conversations”, I realized that other members of my family have O.C.D., generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and/or addiction. On one hand, I was relieved to find out that I was not the only one struggling with mental illnesses in my family. On the other hand, I was frightened that this is something I could pass down to my children in the future.
Realizing how much distress my mental illness has caused me and my family, I worried that my children won’t have a chance to escape it. Then I realized that although we each struggle with mental illness, our lives are still full of love and happiness. We still have opportunities, experiences, and achievements. Our lives still have meaning and they are worth living.
Mental illness is still a taboo for a lot of people, but it’s a common occurrence among adults and children alike. Chances are, there is someone(s) in your life that struggle with mental illness. Have an open mind and listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to understand (or like) what they say, but it is a very real thing to them and you should validate that. Accept their fears and support their journey to wellness.