National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from NAMI Indianapolis

What Parents Can/Can’t Do For Siblings

By Rex Dickens, NAMI Sibling and Adult Children (SAC) Resources

What Parents Can’t Do:

  • Can’t take away the fact that mental illness impacts other siblings.
  • Can’t lessen the impact by not talking about it.
  • Can’t shield the siblings from their own feelings about it.
  • Can’t determine the coping style individual siblings may adopt.
  • Can’t do the grieving (mourning) process for them.  This involves denial, sadness, anger and finally acceptance.  This process everyone must do in their individual way, and at their own pace.
  • Can’t make them seek help if they need the denial stage.
  • Can’t take away peer and societal stigma.
  • Can’t expect they will not have a variety of negative emotions such as guilt, fears, grief, resentment and jealousy.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Be aware that all family members are profoundly affected.
  • Be aware of the coping stance the sibling will adopt, i.e. estrangement, enmeshment, etc.
  • Talk about your feelings and encourage them to do the same.
  • Learn about the illness to lower family anxiety.
  • Do not make the ill member the axis on which the family revolves.  This is as detrimental to the ill person as it is to the other family members.
  • Seek to improve the mental health system so that after-care options are available.
  • Read some sibling articles and books to have a background understanding of the sibling experience.