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 Marcia Purse

Help - Family Won't Understand

By April 15, 2013

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Neena, a reader at the About Bipolar Disorder Facebook page, asked this question:

"How do you get your family to understand? They won't even read anything about it. They think I rely on my meds, even though I tell them that they would not be able to live with me without my meds."

It's tough when family members refuse to educate themselves or listen. The resources here can be valuable - if the family members will at least listen or read the articles. Some of them are:

But if they won't listen, won't read even if you print out and hand them the articles - what then? Many years ago a social worker told me, "If others always do the same thing in a given circumstance, you can't change their behavior - you can only change your own." I found this to be invaluable. So Neena, you might stop and look at what happens right before they give you this negative response. Is what you did something you do or say frequently? Is there another way to do or say it, or is it just unproductive to do it at all?

If you aren't doing or saying anything that brings on this repeating negative behavior, are you always reacting the same way, and does that reaction feed into the negative cycle, and if so, can you change your reaction to something more positive?

I'm not saying it's easy. You have to examine each incident and look for similarities in your own behavior, then think about how you can change it.

If you have ideas for how Neena can get her family to understand her illness better, please leave a comment.

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Comments
April 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm
(1) isntitironic says:

A great collection of resources at a very timely moment. This is just the info I was looking for. I’m dealing with a family who doesn’t understand my new diagnosis of BP2. I have been very proactive in getting help myself, but they think I am just making excuses for my poor behavior. Very frustrating.

April 26, 2010 at 5:30 pm
(2) Jo says:

My family haven’t asked a single thing they just think its a ‘jo thing’ and an excuse for my behaviour, but i’m lucky enough to have a partner who comes to all appointments and looks up info online, even my children have done that, all i can say is hang in there, dont’ let their negativity bring you down! its hard enough dealing with our emotions with out family making it harder, i hope you have some amazing friends that are there for you
jo

April 26, 2010 at 6:04 pm
(3) Hydra says:

Good resources and good advice in your posting. After many years of my extended family refusing to be supportive of me, I cut all contact with them. I am NOT suggesting that anyone do this. I am happy and content with my past decisions and I am a better for it. I have close friends, my son, his gf and their baby. We are very pleased with our lives. Good luck to you.

April 27, 2010 at 5:02 am
(4) sharon says:

My parents treated me as though I was suddenly insane after diagnosis. My father tried to read up a little, but failed to understand that one persons syptoms may not be exactly the same as another’s. The situation distressed me so much that I eventually also cut ties with the family all together. It still hurts, but I was able to deal with my illness far better without feeling that there was always somebody standing by with pointed fingers.

April 27, 2010 at 8:47 am
(5) Sandra says:

I am fortunate to have a very understanding family. But I think the difference came when soon after my diagnosis we were referred to NAMI. They have a wonderful, educational program especially designed to help family members understand the illness and it’s affects on you and your family. Try to find an office near you and call and see if they have any suggestions. They are very helpful and have many resources to offer. Hope you have better luck with your family in the future!

April 27, 2010 at 9:24 am
(6) Cassie says:

I’m lucky (unfortunate) that the everybody in my family has a mental disorder. Bipolar being the most common. My mom also has agoraphobia, and my dad has schizophrenia. My family has a very broad knowledge of mental disorders, and accepts that they are a real disease. My husband, not so much. For the longest time he thought I was making excuses. I’m an ultradian cycler, so I go from one end to the other in the same hour. He refuses to educate himself, and although he now accepts it isn’t an excuse, he still has stigmas stuck in his mind. His favorite phrase is “Are you taking your medicine?” when I cycle. The only thing I can do is slip in some facts during a conversation without sounding like I’m assaulting them. It is helping with my situation.

April 27, 2010 at 7:21 pm
(7) angel says:

I must say that my family is not very understanding. My marriage ended in shambles before i was properly diagnosed with Manic Bipolar. I am now on medication and very stable but it has taken three long years for me to be able to say that and all my mom “understands” about the disorder is that i am unbearable to be around off my medicine. The rest of my family doesnt understand anything about it and never cared to ask. Now my eight year old daughter got diagnosed with severe bipolar 6 mths ago and my family seems more concerned about what it is that makes her act the way she does. we still havent got her stabilized on her medicine yet. it is a work in progress. at least for her the road is not as rough because she has a mother who understands what she is going through.

April 27, 2010 at 10:35 pm
(8) VIVIAN says:

NEENA,
I, TOO, SUFFER FROM BI-POLAR ILLNESS (TYPE-II, RAPID CYCLING, WITH MIXED MOOD STATES & S.A.D.)
ALTHOUGH MY FAMILY DOESN’T UNDERSTAND MY DISORDER, THEY TRY TO BE AS SUPPORTIVE AS IS POSSIBLE. I TRY TO HELP THEM BE SUPPORTIVE BY MONITORING MY BEHAVIOR, AND GENTLY LETTING THEM KNOW WHEN I NEED MY SPACE.
I BELONG TO THE NATIONAL ALLIANCE ON MENTAL ILLNESS (NAMI), ALSO MENTIONED BY SANDY. THEY OFFER A FREE 12-WEEK COURSE CALLED “FAMILY TO FAMILY”, LEAD BY TRAINED INSTRUCTORS. IT OFFERS SUPPORT AND MUCH INFORMATION FOR THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF INDIVIDUALS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS. THROUGHOUT THE COURSE, THE PARTICIPANTS LEARN COPING SKILLS AND GAIN A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF INFORMATION ABOUT THEIR LOVED ONE’S ILLNESS.
THE COURSE IS VERY WELL RECEIVED.
CHECK THE COURSE OUT ON THE NAMI WEB SITE: http://WWW.NAMI.ORG OR CALL THE NAMI NATIONAL OFFICE AT (703) 524-7600 FOR YOUR NEAREST AFFILIATE.
BEST WISHES

April 29, 2010 at 9:51 am
(9) aprille_sequira says:

I must say family is horrible at listening to your problems. My family members wont even accept that I am Bipolar. Im only 17-years-old and in severe need for help. But the more I try to tell them they more they keep saying I’m doing it all for attention and that I am “dramatizing.” They dont seem to find it necessary to deal with my problem even though they are the ones having to deal with my major mood swings. They can see it but they just wont believe me. I wish that they’d understand so that I’d have help but I’m in this boat on my own. I bet there are a lot of people like me out there. I hope you’ll all the best. Be strong.

November 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm
(10) Keely Diagnosis says:

This kind of thing is heartbreaking. It happened to my sister with her husband’s family after she was diagnosed at a dual diagnosis treatment center. Really, you can’t force people to do things they don’t want, and pushing will just make them push back harder and be more stubborn. I would stop trying and just focus on working on yourself. With time, as you get better and more in control, they will start to recognize a difference and will probably become more open.

April 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm
(11) CLW says:

Have you tried suggesting the family-to-family class offered by NAMI…National Alliance for Mental Illness? Check on the internet for the office near you and explore their website. I took the class when I began to suspect a family member might be affected and the information helped tremendously.

With our NAMI group here in Ventura Calif, there are opportunities for clients…individuals who have been diagnosed..to participate in programs and presentations that inform the community about what if feels like to have mental health issues, what works and doesn’t, an opportunity to hear success stories, and the ability to ask questions and receive answers from persons with a mental illness.

April 17, 2013 at 8:16 pm
(12) sefrost53 says:

The best thing to do when faced with people who wallow in their ignorance is to 1) forgive them, and 2) teach yourself not to worry about their opinions; learn to be happy in small ways or any ways you can because you can’t change people’s actions, only your reactions to them. Maybe join a support group/chat room.

April 18, 2013 at 7:50 pm
(13) maniccarousel says:

It bothers me when I tell others that my family refuses to try to listen to me about my bipolar or even try to understand or recognize it and the response I get is maybe I AM NOT EXPLAINING IT RIGHT. No, I am sure I explained it completely to them. They don’t want to be bothered. It takes too much time from their lives if I need to call to talk or cry or ask for them to take me to an appointment or to even take me to the ER. They don’t want to deal with me. I’ve got the illness. They don’t want to come near me. They don’t want to hear about it. I went to the psyc ward for help 3 times and only 1 sister visited me and only 1 time. 2 other sisters have been diagnosed with bipolar but I don’t know if they even accept that diagnosis. I never hear about it from them. It’s like they ignore it and they ignore me. So, please don’t think it’s something you have done. There are a lot of families that prefer to pretend your illness doesn’t exist. Those who do have support from families are very lucky.

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