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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Assisting Someone With A Mental Illness



My daughter is 27 years all, she is married in the process of getting a divorce, she has two children (6 years and 4 years) and it looks that she tried to commit suicide. My daughter moved from Florida to Seattle two years ago with the illusion and enthusiasm to have a wonderful life with her husband and their two kids. Two years later they are going to get divorced. Right now she is living along with her two children; she works as a teacher in a kindergarten and also takes classes to obtain her Master's degree. This Saturday we receive a call telling us that our daughter was having a manic episode. According to the information we get she started the day taking her daughter to the daycare (my daughter works here too) and then took her son to the school but she was telling him several times (according to her son) “son look at my eyes this is the last time you will see your mommy”. She returned back to her work and start acting very estranges, at some point she started walking on the streets without having complete notion of what she was doing. That night her boss took her and the kids to her home and her boss said that my daughter woke up during the night screaming and asking where she was and who was there; and from there they went to the hospital. Later we found out she is deeply in love with one co-worker but the co-worker has a girlfriend and he is just playing around with my daughter. The first day in the hospital my daughter didn’t want to talk to anybody (Saturday), on Sunday she was willing to talk to me by phone and it looks that she does not remember anything from that Friday and she is acting like every thing is okay. I’m extremely worried about the health of my daughter I don’t know if she is going to do any thing to herself and because she's in love with some impossible man what would be the next step? , Basically I don’t know how to act, what to say to her, how to approach her. PLEASE ADVICE


It certainly sounds like you are having some difficult times right now!  I'm going to focus on your concerns about how to act around someone with serious mental illness -- especially when it is a new problem, or becomes significant.

First of all, there are several people here that need to be supported - yourself, the person who is ill (in this case, your daughter) and other family members.  Knowledge is an important place to start.  Understanding what mental illness is (and isn't) is important.  The internet has some excellent resources for families, including:

The mental illness education project site (which also has a list of books and other resources) at: http://www.miepvideos.org/recovery/mental_health_recovery.html

The national alliance on mental illness at: http://www.nami.org/.

both of these offer education about mental illness, as well as advice about how to interact with the mentally ill person.

As you talk and interact with the mentally ill person, especially early in the course of the illness, there is likely to be denial, blaming and recrimination.  It is important to be supportive of the individual person, without getting caught up in details and emotion.

Acknowledge love and support with simple words, while avoiding trying to second guess diagnoses and decisions.  Make lists of questions for your daughter's doctors and mental health care providers.  Help your daughter make lists of questions, too.  They can be as simple as "what happened?" and "what is my diagnosis?" to specifics about treatment, medications, etc.  If your daughter gives her permission, accompany her to some appointments with mental health professionals or get her permission to talk to her physicians about how best to approach your daughter.

Be positive.  With treatment, the vast majority of mental illness is either treatable or curable.  Life crises and stressors can trigger mental illness episodes, and lead to appropriate treatment and support.

Take care of yourself, and as possible, offer to relieve stressors for your daughter.  These may be temporary (babysitting so she can go to a doctor's appointment, offering a loan or gift of money to cover lost salary during a hospitalization) or ongoing (housing, child care, etc.)  Don't do more than is appropriate for you, or resentments will grow, and the relationship can deteriorate.  Work with your daughter's mental health care providers to help determine when and what stressors could be helpful to relieve and which are issues that she must deal with for recovery.

Good Luck.

For more information:

Go to the Anxiety and Stress Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati