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Challenges for the Family

Dear All –

My e-mail today varies considerably from my usual messages, but I feel it is indicated to speak to the challenge of mental illness striking a family of faith. In your review of this subject, I refer you to the outstanding pamphlet, titled "When Mental Illness Strikes a Family of Faith," which I believe is still available from Pathways to Promise (

My e-mail below is a response to a clergy person whose son is ill with bipolar disorder. The son has threatened his parents, is verbally abusive, is usually angry, has rapid mood changes, talks rapidly, monopolizes conversations, has started to take illegal drugs and has turned his back on the religion of his parents, The parents have been advised to get a restraining order. They now ask what I advise for them to do.

My answer is certainly not all inclusive of what might be said in response to this request. Nevertheless, I forward it on to you for your consideration. It is my experience that as I attempt to give hope and help to those affected by mental illness (those with a mental illness and family members) that I frequently get questions similar to the one posed in this e-mail.


Dear ----

My prayers are with you as you face the challenges that come to you as a result of the illness of your son.

When individuals with manic depression or schizophrenia are not receiving adequate treatment, they are more prone to doing harm to themselves and/or others than when they are adequately treated with medication and/or psychological counseling. Resentment and anger by those with serious mental illness are more likely to be directed toward their family than toward others. Thus court ordered restraining orders are unfortunately sometimes indicated.

Medication is certainly not the whole answer and sometimes not even part of the solution, but if medication is indicated, other rehabilitation efforts are not going to be effective unless adequate medication is administered. Regardless of whether or not a restraining order is necessary, it appears from your description of your son's behavior that vigorous attempts to get more adequate treatment is indicated.

Love for your son does not mean capitulation. You must "draw the line." You must insist that his behavior toward you improve significantly and be consistently improved. Since it appears that his treatment is inadequate, he needs to follow your suggestions to be under the care of and follow the directions of a psychiatrist and possibly a psychologist.

It is very helpful, as well, to have your son sign a legal document giving his psychiatrist and psychologist permission to discuss with you the condition of your son. Mental illness is a family problem and is ideally treated by having input from and counseling for the entire family.

Unfortunately it is sometimes necessary to temporally withdraw financial support and/or accessibility to one's home. Although it is a challenge to explain the reasons for such an action to an ill loved one, it is important to attempt to do so. An attempt should also be made to explain that your action is not a punishment, but rather a consequence of unacceptable behavior, which would be abetted by your tolerance of it.

If legally possible, communication with and guidance from your son's psychiatrist and/or psychologist will be very helpful in responding to your challenge in a wise manner. When these counselors understand both you and your son, they will be able to give you the best possible advice.

"Tough love" does not mean no love or conditional love. It does include, however, the willingness to stand up for what appears to be necessary for your son to have improvement. The long term outcome for him depends on it.

The grief you must be having over the effects that mental illness is having directly on your son and indirectly on you must be intense. Your challenge to be successful in having him understand that you love him and want to do the very best possible things for him, while simultaneously explaining to him that he needs to accept certain responsibilities in bringing about recovery must seem almost overwhelming.

Attempting to guide your son into a situation in which he can get more adequate treatment may not be successful initially, but when your son does regain his mental health, he will remember that you tried to do what was best for him.

Acceptance of some responsibility, even though he is so extremely ill, is possible. Without it, his chances of improvement are very slim. As mentioned above, accepting his abuse will only abet his irrational behavior.

I urge you to persist in your prayers for strength and guidance. Prayer is powerful. Prayer does work. It doesn't seem that God chooses to "cure" mental illness, but I frequently ask God to cure my son and now I ask him to cure your son as well, if it is his will. Although the timing of God's answer might seem a little slow to us, he is with us. I pray that his presence will strengthen you in whatever course you follow in your attempts to help your son.

God does provide healing, which I consider to be having solace and a sense of "wholeness." I appreciate your desire for your son to feel God's healing power and I believe in God's time that he will heal your son, my son and all the sons and daughters in this world who have a mental illness.

God's presence in our lives is essential, if we are to attain a sense of wholeness. This gift from God is necessary for all, whether or not mental illness is an issue. For those with a mental illness and those who are caretakers, the spiritual strength gained from God's presence is of particular importance.

Guidance for you should be available from a support group or a Family to Family Course through your local NAMI affiliate. In the Orange County Area in Southern California, we have two NAMI sponsored support groups, which are given from a Christian perspective but respective of all religions. I can't over-emphasize the importance of such support and education.

In all that you are doing, please remember to take care of yourselves. Just as it is necessary for an adult airline passenger to position his/or her oxygen mask before assisting a child, so is it necessary for you with God's help to care for yourself in order that you can best assist your son.

I thank you and complement you on your efforts to discern what is best for your son.

There is hope.


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