Living with a family member with mental illness


When mental illness hits, it can hit hard. It hits the person who has it and it hits the family equally hard — though in different ways.

One of the most common questions we at Jewish Community Services get asked is ‘How can I help my loved one when they don’t think they need help to begin with?’
Regardless of the reason, as a family member or friend, it can feel powerless. But there are steps you can take. Here are a few to help you help your loved one move forward on the journey to recovery and wellness.

1. Remember that the journey to accepting there is a problem to deal with is theirs alone. Although you can prepare the ground; by having discussions and listening, by setting clear boundaries and by offering information when appropriate. For anyone who’s been in this position, you’re aware it takes more than one conversation. It takes many. It’s about voicing your concern with compassion. While at the same time it’s about setting boundaries for your own well-being, recognising you are not responsible for their health and happiness. If you are a parent of an adult child, this is one that is most heart breaking to learn and understand. Letting go is tough even when the adult child is well and thriving.

2. Ask your loved one to humour you and go to see a doctor/social worker together. When family members ask me how to help their loved one, the issue has usually been going on for quite some time. And in that time entrenched power struggles have developed and mistrust on both sides has been established.

3. Rebuild trust and rapport. Your adult child, sibling or parent may continue to get angry when you suggest anything. The trick is for you to NOT get angry back. This is easier said than done. But the goal is to have them be willing to see someone for a general check-up.

4. Evaluate whether you are really the best person to talk to your loved one right now. Be honest, if conversations end with tempers flying, another person who has his/her best interests at heart and can communicate more easily is a better option.

If any of the above resonates with you and you need assistance,
please contact Rhita Russon on 021 462 5520 or


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