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How to Deal With a Mentally Ill Person: Setting Boundaries

Having loved many people who have mental illnesses, Angela has researched as much as she can about the brain and mental illness.

Cloth embroidered by a schizophrenia patient

Cloth embroidered by a schizophrenia patient

When someone you love becomes sick with a mental illness and refuses to get help, there are a lot of emotions that you will experience. Some of them will come right away; some of them will come slowly. One of the most surprising is grief.

To someone who has not faced this, it may be hard to understand how you can grieve a living person. The terrible thing about mental illness is that the person themselves change. It's often a gradual change, from healthy to ill, but they do change. As the mental illness holds onto them, like in cases of schizophrenia, dementia, and many other mental illnesses that are gripping those we love, the person gets sicker and sicker. Unlike other illnesses, their personality changes, they may become paranoid or even volatile. One moment you are talking to the person you used to know; the next, you find them screaming at you, and you don't recognize the person before you, which can happen from day to day, or even moment to moment. Unfortunately, as a loved one, we need to learn to cope with this new change. We need to grieve the loss we are experiencing and begin setting new boundaries.

Setup Boundaries

Setting boundaries does not mean outright rejection. It means that I am limiting their influence on my life, which is probably the hardest part of this kind of grief because where the boundaries should be is different for every person. The ill person may deal with certain people better than others. And different people deal with someone with mental illness more easily than others.

One book I strongly recommend is called Boundaries. It teaches how to set up healthy boundaries. It is not mean or heartless. It is self-preservation, love for yourself, respect for yourself. And often it is better and more healthy for the sick person as well.

One question to ask yourself when setting up boundaries does that person take advantage of you. If they take advantage of you, you must learn to say, "no." Until you learn to say no, they will continue to take advantage of you. You may feel you have a responsibility to that person; the truth is that if they are an adult, even if they are your child, you do not have a responsibility to be at their beck and call. In some cases saying, "no" is being more loving to that person, especially in cases of enabling.

Also, when we set up boundaries towards our loved ones, it allows us to help them better since our emotions are not high, and patience is not lost.

Are You an Enabler?

Also, you need to be honest with yourself. One of the hardest questions, especially as a parent, needs to ask themselves is am I enabling this person. Many parents of mentally ill adult children feel that they need to care for that person, even though that person is capable of caring for themselves. By setting up boundaries, you are making them take responsibility for themselves and their actions. It also teaches them to become more independent.

Friends, siblings, etc. can also do this. Are you allowing them to worsen than illness and preventing them from getting the help they need, which needs to be assessed very carefully since it's easy to make excuses for your reasons for intervening or helping the person out. Often we have good intentions with disastrous results.

Is This a Toxic Relationship

Another thing you need to ask yourself; is this a toxic relationship? A toxic relationship means any relationship where you are abused mentally, verbally, or physically, which is the hardest kind of boundary because, for your protection, you need to distance yourself from the abuser. It's hard to distance ourselves from someone we love. We often want to be a martyr in order to help the other person, but we cannot do that at the expense of ourselves. Not risking our emotional well being is not a selfish tactic.

When we allow others to abuse us, we are incapable of helping those around us who do need help. You may be allowing yourself to be abused by this person, at the expense of helping other people, such as your children, or if the person is your child, your other children. You may find yourself focused on your ill child; you neglect the others. You may also neglect your marriage.

When a person is toxic in your life, you may need to decide when they are no longer allowed in your life. Your heart will break, that's normal, but you are not only protecting yourself but those around you. By cutting off toxic relationships, it allows your other relationships to blossom.

Allow Yourself To Grieve

Once you have set up boundaries, allow yourself time to cry. The one thing you need to remember is that you are losing someone. Maybe they are physically present in your life, but mentally the person you once loved is gone. Let yourself mourn. Remember the good times, but know that the good times you had were not with this person. It was a healthy version of this person. You can hope you will have them back but be realistic. In most cases, unless that person seeks medical help, they will never be back. They may have moments where they are doing better than other times, but expect that things can change right back quickly.

Mental illness is a terrible set of diseases. There is not enough known about the human brain to cure such conditions. Although it does not take away life, it takes away the quality of life. It can affect those around the ill person more drastically than any other type of illness. Be honest with yourself, be realistic, set up boundaries, and let yourself grieve.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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Questions & Answers

Question: Why do you mean when you write that mentally ill people are mean to the ones closest to them and nice to the outsiders?

Answer: I believe that as the nature of all people, we tend to be the meanest to those we love because we have the protection that they will still love us. We tend to treat those we do not know with respect or at least kind. Somebody who is mentally ill is the same. When they are having a hard day, they are going to allow that frustration to come out more around those they feel safe with. Unfortunately, a mentally ill person tends to have a harder time not sharing these emotions outwardly, and may be more aggressive, meaner than if they were able to control their emotions better. It is for this reason why they sometimes have difficulty even with those they do not know.

Question: What if you are afraid of a mentally ill person, and you cannot get professionals to help?

Answer: Unfortunately, you need to think of your safety. If you can get the police involved, that is the first step. Be prepared that false accusations could be brought against yourself. If you successfully get the police involved, you can seek a restraining order.

If you live with the person, you may need to consider moving or evicting the person. If you are married, you may want to seek a women's shelter. These are only small pieces of advice from a non-professional. The best bet is to seek a therapist for yourself who can help advise you and help you heal, and possibly lawyers if you are living with them or married to them. If they are your children, you need to show tough love, possibly change locks, etc.

Question: I am the direct support staff for a 19-year-old male. How can I set boundaries with him?

Answer: There are many factors to consider. Without knowing the boundary issues and the nature of your relationship, it is hard to say precisely. I do know that you need to be clear and direct. Avoid noncommittal language such as, "I wish you would...," or "I don't like when you...." This does not give any direction.

Instead, you need to say very firm, direct statements such as, "Do not do...," and "Please do...."

If you are soft natured like me, you may find that you naturally are soft in not only how you say things, but the words you use. You need to make sure your words are very clear. If there is any ambiguity, then someone who has boundary issues will take advantage of that.

Question: How do I cope when both of my parents are mentally ill? I also have the bad luck of being from a country where most people are frustrated with life and abuse others that are better than them.

Answer: I wish I could give you an answer that would cure you of your frustrations. Unfortunately, there is not a cure-all answer for this.

Coming from a biblical perspective, I believe that each person goes through trials to help them grow. It is our choice. We can either allow these problems to make us bitter and afraid, or we can use these problems to educate others and help ourselves grow.

Can you fix what is going on with your parents? No.

Can you make others in your country treat people with respect? Not all of them.

What you can do is be the voice of reason, educating people on the goodness of being kind. You can choose to find joy even when it's not obviously present. Look for the good in life and choose joy. Try to be a light for others, who feel they are trapped in darkness, even when you feel you too are in that darkness.

We cannot change others, but we can change ourselves.

Question: What is the name of the book about setting boundaries?

Answer: Boundaries by Henry Cloud. It is an excellent book. There is a workbook and video series as well.

Question: What kinds of medications are used to treat mental illness?

Answer: There are so many different kinds of mental illnesses with just as many different treatments. It's important for a doctor to be very involved in prescribing these drugs and following up, because the wrong medication can throw off the chemistry of a person's brain, causing them to get worse, not better. Unfortunately, although you could find answers to this question online, each person, even with the same diagnosis, needs to have a unique treatment.

Question: Please tell me where I may buy a copy of "Boundaries" and the workbook at a discounted price?

Answer: Unfortunately, even if I found where they have a discount on it, that may change by the time you look there, as prices online are always changing. That being said, two of my favorite places to barter books is and Otherwise I look on

Question: Our daughter who is 33 years-old has a personality disorder and needs our support in order to get help, but she is very disrespectful. I finally said you are on your own. Is it alright to distance ourselves from our adult, mentally ill daughter?

Answer: I cannot give my own opinion without more details. There are way too many factors to consider when asking if not helping someone is right. In the case of abuse, I believe you need to protect yourself from that person.

Personally, if she is sincere about getting help, and needs you to assist her, then I would encourage you to help her if you are able to do so without harm to yourself. Part of her disrespect could be her inability to manage her own feelings due to her personality disorder. I wish I could give a cut and dry answer, but often situations like this are so complex, you would need to talk with a counselor in order to know what the best course of action you should take.

Question: My daughter-in-law, who has borderline bipolar, asked my son for a divorce. What can I do?

Answer: The only thing you really can do is be there for your son. Show him that you love him and you support him during his hard time. Encourage him to prevent himself (and yourself) from becoming bitter. Help him reach acceptance.

Be civil and cordial to your daughter-in-law, and do not get in the middle. It will not help anyone.

Question: About toxic relationship, my mom was my abuser while she had a mental illness. After three years, I'm finally seeing her and helping her. She told me she has forgotten about those times. Since I am helping her with rides, food, and clothes, is this still a toxic relationship?

Answer: I wish I could give a definitive answer; unfortunately, it is a complicated question. I have found when dealing with people with mental illness, that they often do claim that they have forgotten their bad behavior. I do not know if I believe them, but I do know it is common. As far as is it still a toxic relationship, that depends on a lot of factors. How does seeing her make you feel? How does she treat you? How do you feel after you spend time with her? Is she limiting your relationships with anyone else? The questions could go on and on. These are just a few to consider. I believe as long as you can maintain a healthy outlook on yourself, and she is not currently negatively impacting you, then she may be no longer toxic for you to be around.

Question: I am a parent of a 40-year-old young man who refuses to accept his mental illness. It has been nine months since his relapse, and I am ready to detach. It's exhausting to encourage him to seek help, work, and for me to focus on my work and needs. Am I approaching this right?

Answer: Honestly, every case is so complicated there really is no right answer. You may have to continually reevaluate the circumstance and adjust. It is not like there is one right way to do it. I strongly recommend you find a counselor for yourself that can help you talk through this. Many churches have counselors for free. Look for a church that is really big, and they are more likely to have one on staff. Many have worked at other facilities, but for whatever reason have chosen to switch to churches. I think you need to make sure you are caring for yourself before you attempt to care for him, otherwise, you are both going to drown. If he is refusing help, you need to be able to remove yourself from him, until he is willing to seek the help he needs. A counselor for you will know what you can and cannot do, and also help you see what is the right way to deal with it for you. A big part of it is putting up boundaries, but boundaries are going to look different for everyone based on temperament, personality, etc.

Question: Do you know of any support groups for family members dealing with this?

Answer: If you want one that is in your area, you may wish to contact the nearest mental health hospital. Otherwise, Facebook has a few. One called "Family and Friend of Adult Loved Ones with Mental Illness" as well as "VOICES (Loved Ones of addiction and Mental Illness)"

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz


Jennifer H on March 19, 2020:

This has been the most honest site I have come across about having to put yourself first. too many give bad advice that say lie and put up with that get the how to talk to them to keep them calm as if there is no such thing as most of us know it. Thank you

Jennifer H on March 19, 2020:

I know what is is like dealing with a mentally ill parent and the other neglectful of our feelings who keeps changing. My son who lived with them doesn't seem to notice why the rest of us birth kids don't take it. He is mad at us because my mother tells lies to everyone about us birth kids for not letting her abuse us especially. We love our parents even thou we have families of our own even if they don't know it. I feel sorry for my son who thinks he is hearing the truth from my mother. The anger he carries is really getting deeper and he is getting angrier as time goes on. The funny thing is our mother is the only one he talks to so he really has no knowledge about the rest of us. I feel those who deal with this issue pains.

Jeff on November 03, 2019:

Very helpful in dealing with my wife! She has been violent, abusive , in and out of jail and still refuses any help. I had to evict her and pursue a divorce. I feel enormous guilt, but have no choice. Thank you for your advice .

Truth Really Is on November 03, 2019:

Most women nowadays are very damaged altogether since Bi Polar in women is very common now, and that is very scary for many of us single men trying to meet a woman now that isn't like that at all. And they can be very extremely dangerous as well.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on June 22, 2018:

A lot of this very good advice Courtretort. Thanks for the great advice!

Courtretort on June 22, 2018:

My best advice, having had a mentally ill sil for years (and it really may be PTSD due to an abortion) is

a. see that person in family groups, or at least two people. They tend to twist events or manipulate to get their way and or to keep the dynamic about them.

b. refuse to be the professional counsellor; tell the person, I am not equipped to solve your issues/problems; talk to your counselors

c. Try to keep the conversation on events vs. emotions and turn the conversation to HEALTH.

d. For celebrations, try to keep them in public spaces, i.e., community centers, restaurants so that the person does not assign you the role of the person who will "take care of me" the rest of my life and/or invite me over on birthdays. Suggest, too, that ALL in the group (and talk about this "off line an why) pick up the tab for this person. One time in that person's mind can become equated as a tradition that X person who means to treat once gets assigned (in the ill person's mind) to do.

e. Keep all the ends an out of your personal life from the person and do not relate to them around your own angsts and illnesses

f. If this person tries to assign you a role or put an expectation on you you don't have for your self, tell them so. "No, that's not my role" or "I don't see myself that way" or if they try to do too much transference, say, "I am not your mom" or whomever.

If this is sibling who could not (or would not) move on from family of origin dynamics and you did a long time a go, may have to remind them that a. you love them but b. your first loyalty is to your spouse and children if you have them. Divorced people, too, who are also mentally ill as adults may tend to revert to family of origin dynamics with a vengeance or regress to a "safer" period of life. Such a person will find it hard to relate to you outside that narrow view he/she had of you at an earlier time.

You may say, "That was a long time ago."

If a parent hopes you will take a sick sibling into you home, do not. You do not want to make another family sick reacting to a sick person. There may be section 8 housing and benefits for said person with a social worker, and it is healthier for this "adult" to live in such an environment as it is for you.

Again, see this person always with a "buddy"/partner/witness. Such people can really twist things and try to guilt trip you to do their bidding when it is not healthy for you.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on June 18, 2018:

Placing boundaries is not about cutting people out of your life. It is about learning to live in a healthy way even though they are still around. It's learning how to say no, and stand your ground. Sometimes that may mean you need to say no you cannot hang out/visit/etc., unless they treat you with respect. That may mean to walk out of the house calmly when they are treating you poorly. Setting boundaries is different then setting up walls. Walls you cannot walk through. Boundaries you can walk through under certain conditions.

Mary on June 18, 2018:

I tried to set boundaries with my father whose been emotionally unavailable for me my whole life, but has always expected me to be there for him . I am mourning the loss of the deep connection we once shared. Memories I've seemed to suppress, but must have been there. I feel a strong sense of guilt, but he was an alcoholic with ptsd and would make me listen to his sob stories about being molested as a child and teen when I was a teen myself. He made up weird lies to me as an adult, like having a girlfriend "Helena Bucket" (hell in a bucket) because that was life (my mom). A "joke" that went on for years. It is his sick sarcastic sense of humor. And the more I think of it, the more I feel disgusted with my father. But he has done many kind things for me. As a teen, he'd always give me and my friends rides anywhere on the weekends and after work. He'd give me money to go shopping even though I had no chores. (He felt guilty because my mom had schizophrenia. But he also has a codependent relationship with her.) I'm in the process of cutting them out completely. I don't want to, but they trigger my PTSD even more when they are around. My dad, thinking he's the nicest person in the world, but really just being weird. He showed up at my house uninvited 2 months after I stopped talking to him to check if I "was alive". I live 2 hours away. Yes, I ignored his calls because he wouldn't allow me to say no to visits. But, if this were the truth, he could have my brother text me , or check facebook, or check with my friends, or text/call my boyfriend of 9 years that I live with. It was a blatant manipulation tactic. When he was here, I told him I was quitting my severely stressful job (where I had outlasted all my coworkers). He didn't attempt to understand and just told me not to quit. I had a graduate degree, and offers within a week of quitting. But, does he care or even acknowledge any of that? Nope. We haven't spoken sense. But it continues to tear me up inside.

Connie on May 24, 2018:

This is good advice as Tom said. It's things you know, but to take the time to sit and read it, helps you to breathe. Funny, how you can be married to someone for years and not realize that the roller coaster ride is due to a mental illness of some kind. Depression has been obvious, and treatable. However, the strange emotional disconnect has played havoc on every relationship my husband has ever had. It is now taking it's toll on ours. I'm at the point where I need to decide, do I embrace the situation-now recognizing this as mental illness- or walk away. Thank you again Angela.

Tom Hoppel on April 13, 2018:

Thanks for this advice. i needed to hear it.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 15, 2018:

Unfortunately boundaries are essential. Sometimes the boundary needs to be completely cut off either temporarily or permanently. I had a similar situation and cut off all communication for four years. Now we are friends again but I do keep clear boundaries.

Lissa1618 on February 15, 2018:

I have a friend that has schizophrenia and is currently going through psychotic episodes and is hospitalized. I have been trying to be supportive and taking her calls while she is in there to just listen. After each conversation I feel very upset and stressed. I know it is not her but I still can't shake it off. She has recently started lashing out at me sending me very dark disturbing angry messages and texts. I have blocked her and distanced myself from her for obvious safety reasons. I am trying to start a family and this stress is taking a negative effect on trying to conceive. I know it was the right thing to block her and like you said in your article it is like grieving a living person. It will take time of course. I'm sure the worst thing to do is cut off someone who is mentally ill. But right now I am conflicted on how and if you go back to being friends with her after she is well again. We have been friends for 15 years.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 02, 2018:

Unfortunately, you might not be able to without hurting her feelings. It is very hard. I am so sorry you are going through this.

Frustrated on February 02, 2018:

I have a friend that has become mentally unstable won't leave her home or have anyone to her house and her calls and annoying me to the point if driving me crazy . How do I take care of this problem with out hurting her feelings .

Suki on October 17, 2017:

Thank You!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on October 16, 2017:

The hard truth is your primary responsibility is your spouse and kids. Your brother is secondary. First look at how it will affect them. If it's going to hurt them physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc, then you need to say no. It's hard, because you so badly want to help, but you cannot place your brother ahead of your current family.

Unfortunately, the best plan is to help him find a homeless shelter near him, if he is severe enough a group home. It may feel heartless, but you do need to protect your immediate family. Give him love and support.

Suki on October 16, 2017:

I am not sure what to do. My brother is mentally ill (possibly borderline disorder, bi-polar, not sure). His cycle is to find a place to live for free or minimal rent, then leave with no other plan. He goes into crisis mode as he needs a place to live urgently. That is when I get a call that he wants to drive across the country and live with me and my family for 1 week, 1 month, etc. I don't think it is a good idea as it 1. will enable him, 2. he is unstable 3. I will end up having to kick him out as he oversteps boundaries

Any advice on how I can help him?

Peacemaker on September 22, 2017:

I read your article above and much of it rang true however I'm still in a quandary as to either attempt to set boundaries or cut the other person off completely. Every time the other person contacts me I feel stressed. To be honest at this point I just want them to leave me alone but they won't. They either strike out by saying something mean or then play the Martyr and say how hurt they are or why am I doing what I'm doing by not communicating with them. I've come to the conclusion that the person has some sort of mental illness. They have admitted they have memory problems which is very obvious but have not said specifically what their problem is. They did say they are on two forms of medication and that they are depressed. It's more than mere depression as I have experienced verbal lashing out and accusations that are paranoid and fabricated in their own mind. When trying to talk about it I get the proverbial well we'll just have to agree to disagree. There is no reasoning so how can I talk to this person and how can they understand boundaries? If I don't say anything I'm a terrible person and they're going to keep coming at me striking out and then pleading. I did speak to them and send them an email explaining exactly what their offense was and what I expected them to do and all I got was well I hope you feel better. A vicious email was sent to our family accusing me of things which we're not true and honestly maligned my reputation to family I haven't seen in over 30 years. They then said don't bring the family into it. I have said nothing to our family. I told this person they created the mess now they need to clean it up which they refuse to do so. Then since they cc:d my sister in the email she politely tried to explain the actual issues which they then responded with another abusive and fantasy response to her about me. The sad thing is I've been trying to get my sister to give him another chance. Her opinion of this person has been that he has issues and doesn't want to have much to do with him. So I got the proverbial I told you so from her which I deserved . I don't know how to say anything as I fear there will be a backlash. I feel horrible going silent but anything I say seems to only infame this. I think I have been an enabler trying to always be the peacemaker so to speak and try to be kind but it has taken s huge toll on me. I am finally coming to the point where I reslize this is not healthy. My stomach is in knots. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Annalisa on September 20, 2017:

Angela, thanks for your wisdom and your support in this site. It is so very difficult to live with the mentally ill.Even when my daughter takes her meds, she can be so angry and so mean.There are mentally ill people on her father's side and she actually looks a lot like them physically. I try so hard to put up with her abuse and to help her , but as she is an adult, I have decided that I am going to put up some boundaries so that I don't have to take so much of her abuse. I feel good about my decision. I will always be there for her to help her in every way, but I am weary and sick of her abusive comments and her awful temper which she takes out on me. I hope I can put up certain boundaries and I hope that it will help some.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on August 13, 2017:

I'm so sorry you are struggling. I often look at some of my loved ones who do suffer with their own mental illness and realize that they are suffering far more than I am. They want to be content with life, but they cannot get there. On medication they are a little better, but getting them to a spot to be willing to take it is hard, then again, they still aren't fully who they truly are. I have heard that diet is huge, eating clean, low inflammatory diet (no wheat or dairy, etc). I'm sure it doesn't help everyone, but it does help some.

Diana on August 09, 2017:

I have a mental illness--bipolar disorder and my older daughter has depression and anxiety. It's very difficult to deal with someone elses mental illness when you have one of your own. On the one hand, you understand what they are going through. But on the other hand, you aren't always equipped to deal with it. I am in mourning. I feel like she died. It's exactly like mourning a death but no-one gets it so you suffer all alone. I'm beginning to have trouble coping with it. Thanks for this article. It's nice to know someone else understands.

Annalisa on July 26, 2017:

My mentally ill family members are driving me crazy. They are so mean and awful. One won't seek help (total denial) and the other one is on meds but they don't seem to work. She tells lies to her therapist on important issues, and thinks this is OK

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on June 05, 2017:

In my circumstances, I had to cut off my emotionally volatile person completely. Then slowly let them back into my life. I couldn't just place boundaries from where we were, I had to literally cut her off, because I could not handle the backlash when I tried placing smaller boundaries.

DarlyneM on May 24, 2017:

My mentally ill younger sister has been living with me for above 2 years. I've been through the ringer with her, between doing cocaine, having a bad abortion and being hospitalized twice in a course of a few months. She's getting better, getting therapy, she's taking her meds, but she still has mood swings and out of control behavior, blaming everyone is our family for her out burst. I've enabled her and should of set boundaries from the start. I feel really bad for her because no one in my family will take her in. When she's calm and sweet, we are the best of friends, but when she in rage it's a living hell.

I've financially supported her for almost the last 2 years and I don't make that much money. I just wanted to help her, but I feel like I've made it so much worse.

I'm not good with confronting people, How do set boundaries with a very emotionally volatile person?

Tami on March 21, 2017:

Hi I am dealing with a mental ill (Psychosis, PTSD, MDD, Anxiety) Adult son who is also addicted to cannabis which triggers the Psychosis. He has been in and out of the mental hospital and the last incident he actual was violent and hurt a family member over a delusion. I desperately want to help him and guide him through his out patient care but he is so unpredictable and I am now a nervous wreck. I can barley hold down my job. I am trying to figure out how to set healthy boundaries. he does not live with me but lives three blocks away. So he is constantly knocking at my door and if I don't answer he's trying to break in. I am afraid of him. Some days he is loving and some days he is combative. I grieve everyday for my son who has a beautiful girlfriend of 8 years, two beautiful little girls and he once had a great career. I'm at my wits end.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 13, 2017:

Because in a way, you did lose them.

anonymous on February 11, 2017:

Thanks for the article. Grief is surprisingly the emotion which hits you when you have a mentally ill family member. I just realized that I have been through that grief for years and it is a natural reaction. It is weird because you grieve for an alive person as if you lost them.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on December 22, 2016:

I am praying for you. Mental illness, schizophrenia apecifically, is especially hard for me to understand. I wish I could tell you what you should do, but unfortunately there are so many things to keep into consideration. If she's like my loved one, your help will only anger her. I send love distantly and keep them at arms length. For me it hurts too much and I cannot handle it. Plus I have my kids to think about.

Anonymous on December 22, 2016:

I have a sister - my only sibling - who has always suffered from anxiety. Recently, this escalated. She had a nervous breakdown followed by a period of severe depression and manic episodes. She sought treatment, but it has been two months and the drugs are clearly not working. My sister complains of losing herself, of not being able to think clearly, of feeling worthless and a burden to her family. She does not demand our help. My mother and I do our best to be there for her because we are so worried about how this will end. My sister is married with two children, her little family is suffering greatly through all of this.

For me personally, the biggest problem has been a feeling of guilt. It's as though I am not allowed to feel happy or carefree any more. The moment I do, I feel guilty. This Christmas I am travelling to be with my sister and close family, but the guilt is still there because I am taking one (one!) day for myself before heading off. I have already received emotional text messages from my mother, suggesting I should be there sooner. The problem is, I have worked very hard in the lead up to Christmas, and I truly need a day's rest. Actually, I would like a proper holiday, but it cannot happen. For better or worse, I must try and be there for my sister.

Yes, I am angry at the whole situation. But more than this, I want to know what I can do to actually help. I do not live close enough to be able to see my sister often. I lack the funds to pay for airplane tickets on a regular basis. Failing that, I do not know what else I can do. The feeling of helplessness is even worse than the feeling of guilt. The whole situation makes me want to run away, but of course I love my sister too much to desert her in her time of need. I worry about the future, about my sister, her children, my mother and myself. My father killed himself when I was 5 - he was diagnosed schizophrenic. I fear that my sister has inherited the same genes. I don't want to lose her, and I will do anything to save her. But what is it that I should do? Should I be quitting my job to be with her full time? I don't feel I should give up everything I love, I don't think me being miserable would help her.

And so this is Christmas...

Jojo on July 13, 2016:

I don't disagree with a lot of what is said here. In fact, in many respects, I do agree. And yet I feel as if it's really important to not feed into the stigma of mental illness; the truth is that living with a mental illness or treatment-resistant depression is emotional torture. It is your own brain telling you that you do not matter, you are a horrible person, everybody hates you, life is worthless, everything feels deeply painful all of the time. Nobody with mental illness wants to feel this way - we desperately want to feel better, and we truly want to stop hurting the people around us. We are aware of the pain we cause to the people we love. We already know that not enough is known about the human brain to cure such diseases; that is the torture of being mentally ill. We know that we are no longer the healthy person that we used to be. These are thoughts running through our minds constantly.

So where is the hope, for us, then? We are already grieving ourselves, our former, healthy selves, and what it feels like to be happy. The stigma that society places on the mentally ill is alienating and adds to the distress that we feel, and that is why I find this article very difficult to read.

I feel apprehensive to share my situation, but if I ever get well again I know that I need to make it my objective to spread awareness on mental illness. I cannot give details on my particular situation, but I feel that it's important for me to express that most, if not all, people with mental illness have experienced trauma of some kind. And living with PTSD is incredibly difficult.

It took me a very long time to accept and take steps to treat my mental illness; it's important to remember that depression, bipolar disorder, BPD, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorders, etc. are cyclical illnesses, that can be treated, but the tragedy that this article emphasizes is that every person is different and will thus respond to treatments differently. I for one do not have a definitive diagnosis, despite being in the privileged position of being able to afford programs that provide comprehensive diagnostic evaluation; I definitely have major depression & anxiety, but I exhibit traits of bipolar II and BPD (borderline personality disorder; which for me manifests itself in attachment and abandonment issues) as well but do not fill the criteria for a complete diagnosis for either of these diseases. It is harder to treat people who do not have a definitive diagnosis because it is harder to figure out the right medication. In my situation, I did not seek help for my depression until I was 23, after I graduated from college. I began seeing a therapist which did help, but she retired after I was seeing her for 6 months, and it is very hard to start from scratch with another therapist, especially when you've found someone you trust. I almost immediately began spiraling after my work with this therapist ended, and within a couple months my relationship of almost 5 years ended -- which was devastating, I wanted to end my life, I was hopeless, but I didn't want to do so without at least trying to see if I could get better. So I sought out another therapist, which turned out to be complicated, because I needed to move back in with my parents within a month or two (I am from the east coast but was living out west, where I went to school). I wasn't well enough to go to work or live independently; I'm lucky to have the parents I have, they somewhat forcefully got me to seek help. I began seeing a therapist who referred me to a psychiatrist who immediately put me on medication (lexapro) and the medication helped significantly--my boyfriend and I got back together shortly after, I applied to graduate school, and embarked on a solo backpacking adventure. I was doing very well & was very happy for a year and a half.

But near the end of my first year in grad school, I stopped taking my medication, and within a few months, I was completely immersed in depression again -- I barely left my bed for an entire summer. I started lexapro and was also put on new medication (abilify) that made me extremely lethargic, then tried another (latuda) which made me feel the same, then finally lithium, which at first seemed to help, but not significantly, because within months I harmed myself and had to go to the hospital. It was extremely traumatizing and put an enormous strain on my relationship. He did many of the things suggested above in response. I knew I deserved it, I was and am very unhealthy, but it didn't make it any less hurtful. Within months he left and has been very adamant about setting the boundaries with me described above over the course of the past 3 months since. It's not that I don't understand it; it's just extremely difficult to deal with the shame & regret for what my mental illness has done to me and to him. I feel truly awful for the pain I've caused.

A couple of weeks ago I entered a well-regarded treatment program; a live in facility with a full psychiatric team & group therapy, the diagnostic evaluation that I mentioned earlier, but it's only meant to be a 2 week evaluation. Most of the other patients and staff I met there were absolutely wonderful people, and all of us were trying our absolute hardest to get better. Ultimately, it did not improve my condition; despite being on several medications, I do not feel any better. I have tried 6 medications in the past year and have consistently been in individual and group therapy. I wrote out 6 pages of reasons as to why I felt the program was ineffective, so I won't go into detail here, but I will say that even the best psychiatrists in the country will say that mental health treatment in the US is a mess and extremely underfunded. Yet the statistic is that 1 in 5 adults suffers from some sort of mental illness. Seeking professional help is not as simple as it sounds, and does not work for many people, who are trying to do everything they can to survive. I don't believe that the majority of people want to die from depression, however I must emphasize that suicide is the fatal result from depression. I find it hard to believe that most people who threaten suicide simply do so for attention or to manipulate people. They are crying out for help to the people they love.

Anyway, there is much for more to say, but I will leave it there. I wanted to post a comment partly because it helps to write this out, but I also think it's important for people to think about how difficult it is to live with mental illness and to seek help for it. We all want to live, but sometimes it is extremely difficult to do so. Emotional pain is a very real and seething thing and no one truly wants to suffer or make others suffer for it. Thank you for listening.

narol denison on March 05, 2014:

i will like to share my testimony to you all.i just got married to my husband about a year ago we start having problems at home like we stop sleeping on the same bed,fighting about little things he always comes home late at night,drinking too much and sleeping with other women out side.i have never love any man in my life except him.he is the father of my children and i don't want to loose him because we have worked so hard together to become what we are and have today.few month ago he now decided to live me and the kid,being a single mother can be hard sometimes and so i have nobody to turn to and i was heart broken.i called my mom and explain every thing to her,my mother told me about Dr Jatto how he helped her solve the problem between her and my dad i was surprise about it because they have been without each other for three and a half years and it was like a miracle how they came back to each other.i was directed to Dr Jatto and explain everything to him,so he promise me not to worry that he will cast a spell and make things come back to how we where so much in love again and that it was another female spirit that was controlling my husband.he told me that my problem will be solved within two days if i believe i said OK.So he cast a spell for me and after two days my love came back asking me to forgive him.i Am so happy now. so that why i decided to share my experience with every body that have such problem contact him email.

narol denison











Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 23, 2013:

You need to report him.

Angel on May 22, 2013:

I was molested when i was 5 or 6, there were to men, I carried it with me all my life like it was a bad dream,

but i knew that it is reality just did not want to admit the problem. After 30 some years my uncle reminded me of what i thought was a bad dream he made

it reality. There is no possible way anyone could have known unless that person was involved or someone that he knows was involved that was there at the time.

My life has taken a bad turn ever since. I'm misunderstood for being a nervous reck, plus it makes it worst cause i have a neurological disorder called CMT.

My uncle is a wealthy man with, set me up because what he said to me back fired on him he was expecting me to keep my mouth shut. I've known him all my life. He reminded me after 30 some years later.

He said "what you haven't sucked ____ " refering to the male private part, and other things. I was in a dark place after i heard that. I'm at a point where this man to protect his reputation is turning everyone against me. Because he is afraid if that ever comes out or spreads it will be his life down the drain. This is the man that believes from a book he read, that you need to destroy your enemies in every way financially and other. I am the person of respect, my uncle turns people against me with money. He formed a cult with people that are on his side. I am afraid for my life and my family's.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 07, 2013:

agreed. :)

PNforHP on March 20, 2013:

The need to set boundaries is not just for some people, but all. Having survived an extremely toxic and abusive relationship with a family member, who got away with it because he is not mentally ill, it must be said, that sometimes it is NOT the person with the mental disease but the person without one that is a boundary violater. They get away with it because they laugh off the abuse they give to the person who is mentally ill, as 'crazy', 'dont know what your talking about', 'never happened', etc., only to start the process all over again, in effect lying to their face, and people who are mentally ill, just like everyone else, soon realize this, hope to keep the relationship, but heartbreakingly realize that this person is not safe to be around for any length of time, that the person they knew is not the same, but not mentally ill either. Sometimes it is not the person who is mentally ill, but the person who is not, that is the one who needs help.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on December 10, 2012:

I'm sorry you had to grow up like that. I'm glad you are learning to change from the learned habits.

Tara7 on December 05, 2012:

It's very difficult to deal with somebody who has a mental illnes.. I grew up with a mother who is bipolar. We were always fighting and I got always the blaim for it, cause my father always took her side.. We, my father and me couldn't show emotions, she was the only who could do that.. She always need all the attention,...So when you grow up like that, you don't know better.. You get two types of people like the really quit scared one, and the rebel fighting against it.. At a young age the fear changed into anger, and I was always fighting outside..You have no idea what an impact it got on somebody who grew up like that..Now that I am older and I have a beautiful son, I slowly start to change, babysteps.. I learned that you don't always have to fight back if somebody is upsetting you, cause that was the first thing I always did, you making trouble with me, I make sure you really get scared of me, so that you never ever bother me again..I do meditation and slowly I get to know the real me :-) Cause the way I grew up, was different, and thank God my father was in that point a very good example, and he still is..Slowly things getting better for me.. But I always used to attracte situation simalor like the way I grew up, were I got humalited al the time by my mum, crazy enough cause it made feel safe...

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on November 23, 2012:

I wish I could, hopefully someone else will have better advice. I can and will pray.

mistyfier on November 22, 2012:

My mother-in-law is very obviously mentally ill. I have no doubt that she is in need of professional help. She is verbally abusive, demanding, degrading, and unappreciative to everyone that is close to her. She seems to be an expert at fooling the rest whether they be doctors or strangers. My husband said it all started when her father died. she went into what they call a "coma" because, for an entire year she didn't speak or show emotion at all. Being a child of an achoholic and an ex-wife of a full blown addict of opiates and narchotics I have done alot of research on the subjects. So from personal experience and research I van say that without a doubt she is an alchoholic as well as addicted to pain medicine and OTC allergy medicine. she snaps. She lives. She pays you off to not say anything. My poor husband and his father have been accepting (enabeling) this behavior for years. I have brought attention to the fact that this is not OK. something has to be done. I have set my boundaries but this situation needs an intervention. Any one out there know where i should start

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on August 09, 2012:

I do have family members who have a mental illness. There are actually multiple people in my life who have mental illness.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on August 08, 2012:

Angela-this is one of the most 'right on' articles I have read concerning knowing and caring for the mentally ill. Your advice is sound and accurate, and I must add, makes me curious if you have a family member who is M.I. Your advice comes from a place of experience.

I applaud your acknowledgement of the grief that comes up. When people do not recognize grief it shows up in other ways: frustration, anger, resentment and physical illness. How honorable that you give voice to the loss of the potential of another human being.

What one must also remember is that we are all teachers for each other; even those who have mental illness. Setting and keeping boundaries is not an easy task, but a necessary one. Not only is it healthy, but it is the compassionate thing to do.

Rated up/I/U and A

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 10, 2012:

Sue, the truth of the matter is, you cannot do it alone. You need to try to get him help. You also need to place some boundaries up for your brother. It's very hard, but you need to protect yourself. People who have mental illness who refuse to get help, end up hurting those they love. One of the hardest things to do is to show tough love, but you may come to a point where you have to say, "I love you, but you need to get help. If you won't help yourself, then I can no longer help you." At this point, I don't know where his illness is, but at some point it will get to that point, unless he's willing to get the help he needs. It will be the hardest thing you ever have to do, but tough love is sometimes needed.

sue on April 08, 2012:

Angela, thank you for your writings on mental illness. I am doing my best to care for my ederly parents and takes every bit of my energy to do so. Now, my brother has developed sometime type of mental illness. He believes people are following him etc. So, I have him living with me, I try to help him, I feel it is out of my control. I know my parents see it to, everyone is kind of unsure how to handle what is before us. I am so scared my husband is going to eventually stop supporting me who tried to help everyone. Shame on his if he does. But, I need to know the best way to get my brother help?

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on December 06, 2011:

I really wish I did. Boundaries is one, it teaches you about putting up boundaries, but as for just comfort, I don't know of one.

It is kind of weird, because it is like they can flip a switch from mentally ill to normal depending who they are around, so it feels like they are purposely targeting you. It's frustrating. I wish I was more help, but all I know is what I have shared.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on December 06, 2011:

I really wish I did. Boundaries is one, it teaches you about putting up boundaries, but as for just comfort, I don't know of one.

It is kind of weird, because it is like they can flip a switch from mentally ill to normal depending who they are around, so it feels like they are purposely targeting you. It's frustrating. I wish I was more help, but all I know is what I have shared.

SLM on December 06, 2011:

My Mother has been mentally ill most or all of her life. She was abused by a family friend when she was 4. She has been diagnosed with many different disorders and frankly I am not sure which if any are the correct one. She is approaching 80 and physically in better health than I. She has a very limited income and relies on me for her transportation etc. She is very demanding and manipulative. She is like a 2 year old that wants ice cream she won’t give up. She does not act this way with other people. I often wonder how it she is cognizant enough to pick and choose. Any suggestions on reading material?

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on October 17, 2011:

I think it is so hard, especially as parents, not to enable, because you feel you are meant to care for them through good and bad. So you feel like you are doing good by "helping" them, but then you realize you are not helping them being better versions of themselves, but helping them maintaining their bad choices.

grieving mom on October 13, 2011:

my husband and I have a son with mental illness. he is also a drug addict. IT is a very toxic and mentally and emotional abusive to us. We try to try to help him but he does not follow through. Putting him on the street has been tough. He constantly harrasses us. We need to grieve but .... we have also been enablers.... thinking we can save him.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on January 14, 2011:

Anon, that's a very good question. And I don't have an answer for you.

anon on January 13, 2011:

What about when you are married to the person? This article doesn't help with that...

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on October 11, 2010:

I'm so sorry for your loss Asp52. It truly is mourning. I "lost" someone to mental illness many years ago. I think the hardest part of it is there is this constant hope that someday they are going to be normal again. That someday you will have them back. Whereas death, you can move on eventually, I think with mental illness you don't fully allow yourself to completely move on.

Andrew Stewart from England on October 11, 2010:

Great hub Angela- my wife has recently been diagnosed type 2 bi-polar and she has called time on our marriage. Of course i will always be there for her but i agree it is like mourning the loss of a living person. I think mourning sums it up completely. Thanks for your article

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on September 14, 2010:

I've never heard of that, I'll have to netflix it. I'll let you know what I think. :)

Rich on September 14, 2010:

Check out the film, "Strive For Happiness."

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 28, 2010:

Your welcome! And I hope you do. I'm so random, I write about everything! I'm obsessed with learning!

mygreatestlove from Georgia on March 28, 2010:

Thank you for coming by! I appreciate your comment. Nice reads!!! I look forward to reading more of you!

God Bless!!!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 14, 2010:

Lovelypaper, I know how you feel. I love the mentally ill people in my life deeply as well.

Renee S from Virginia on March 14, 2010:

My best friend from High School is mentally ill and a completely different person than she was in school. I miss who she was but love her no less. It's difficult. Thanks for writing about such an important topic.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 11, 2010:

Unfortunately, these are things you need to constantly remind yourself of. It's hard to set up healthy boundaries, but we need to... it's hard.

Smokes Angel from Broke Alabama on March 11, 2010:

Angela this is awesome. You are an incredible writer and I am glad I read this

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