Your Family Member has a Mental Illness and/or a Chemical Dependency …

Are You Feeling Stuck and Don’t Know What to Do?

Firstly, if your family member is a danger to him/herself or to others,  get immediate assistance. Call:

Here you can get an evaluation, an assessment, or a commitment    You will also be referred to the appropriate resources that can help with the particular challenge you and your loved one are facing.  

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Dealing with a loved one who has a mental and/or drug & alcohol problem can be overwhelming and devastating. When flying, we are advised : if there is an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask  first, so that you can be in a position to help others.  Similarly, you need help so that YOU can be in a position to support your loved one:

Don[t let life be destroyed1

You will have to live and deal with your loved one’s condition as long as you or he/she lives — and we all want him/her to live a fulfilling, useful life — but there IS life after a family member’s diagnosis: YOU TOO ARE ENTITLED TO A PERSONAL LIFE. You don’t have to sacrifice your own life to deal with your family member’s condition, and you don’t have to abandon your family member in order to have a life.  Regrettably, many family members of people with mental health and/or substance abuse  conditions,  do not get help for themselves.  

Is Your Life Being Sacrificed to the Needs and Demands of Your Family Member?     

It doesn’t matter what drives you —   love, a burning desire to somehow make things right for him/her;  or a sense of duty/obligation or guilt.   Most people feel all of these emotions either consecutively or simultaneously.  The problem is that YOUR life is being sacrificed. 

If you find yourself constantly trying to appease or pacify your loved one, with money, attention and/or entertainment; and/or your family member’s behavior is becoming more and more unacceptable; then, you most likely feel used up emotionally, physically and often financially.

Do you feel powerless as your marriage or romantic relationship; friendships;  relationships with other family members – even relationships with your other children; and your career, etc. fall apart and are destroyed because of the demands of your family member’s condition? 


    Perhaps you have resigned yourself to the belief that you will never again be able to have a personal life for yourself?            




 And know too, if you are in this position, Picture2your noble self-sacrifice, and your very best efforts may still not be enough to prevent your loved one from ending their own lives, or someone else’s life.     With some conditions, this is a very real danger.

Please get help if you are dealing with this situation in your life.

You may need the guidance and support of a therapist, or  a support group/s, or both.  You need to learn more about the condition of your family member, and what resources and options are available to him/her and to you.  Other people in your situation are a tremendous source of emotional support and a network of resources, and expertise. 


This page is intended to direct you to resources that can show you how to get that help, guidance and support — to provide you with a road map to dealing with your loved one and their issues — and to living a fulfilling, full life yourself.

The Issue

Unfortunately, mental disorders have become widespread.  The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 26.2% of Americans aged 18 or older — about one in four adults — are diagnosed with a mental disorder in a given year.

Frequently, mental illnesses are accompanied by a drug and/or alcohol addiction as people attempt to self-medicate.  Often the mental illness is overlooked or unsuspected, as the drug and alcohol problem becomes evident and is assumed to be the sole cause of the behavioral problems.

There is hope — people can and do recover from mental illness and addiction.  For those conditions for which there is no total recovery, there are many aids and supports to help in coping,  and to facilitate optimal integration into the community, so that people can live fulfilling, productive lives. 

Just being there for your loved one, and offering support, friendship, strength and acceptance can make all the difference in the recovery process.

 The Importance of Family Support

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Recovery IS possible, and family support is very important.  Your loved one is most likely aware that they have a problem, but they are probably feeling afraid and lost.  Your support will provide your loved ones with the reassurance that they are not alone and that there is help in navigating the avenues available for recovery.  You are the people your loved ones will turn to and count on for emotional support and guidance.  

Family is a natural support, but other natural supports include friends, neighbors, church, community centers, drop-in centers (like the Grapevine Center), clubs, organizations, food banks, or anything in your local community that will help your loved one in their recovery.  Supports will change and evolve as life progresses.  Supports build resiliency, improve the quality of life and assist in achieving long term recovery.  They also help you, the family,  cope with an overwhelming situation.

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I believed my son had a major drinking problem, which he did.  It never occurred to me that he also had a mental illness.  All I knew was that his behavior was unacceptable and I didn’t know what to do about it.  I was a single mom … I felt confused, embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, sad and lonely.  After years of ignoring the problem by doing whatever I could to keep my son away from me,  my employer  finally  transferred me to another state, and I was “set free”.  By this time, my son was in his twenties, drinking heavily, sometimes working, and oftentimes not, sometimes having a roof over his head, sometimes not. And his behavior was frequently bizarre.  I’m not sure where he would have ended up if not for his father, who eventually stepped in and got our son the help he needed.  

Today, my son is a wonderful man, sober and managing his illness very well.  If only I had known about mental illness, NAMI, and the support it offers, perhaps it would not have taken `14 years to get my son and me on the right track.  I know it’s a struggle, but having the support of others who understand what you’re going through helps lessen the burden.  I don’t think I can express adequately how important support groups and education are.  If you are reading this and are suffering in silence, PLEASE connect with a support group.  You are not alone and NAMI can help.

— Joyce Saunders, NAMI Butler Board President.

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Standing Together as a Community

I live with a mental illness; and my mother has a mental illness which was never diagnosed. I grew up in a dysfunctional home, and had no relationship with, or support from any of my family members growing up.  I have found supports in the community that have gotten me to where I am today.  Volunteering for this group helps family members get together to share their struggles and strengths with others in the community.  I have been able to provide family members with hope that recovery is always possible — for both the families and the person with mental illness.

— Kathy McDonnell, Family Group Facilitator

Family Support

As each class unfolds, we can see the progress as participants learn to accept what they cannot change and become engaged in the process of learning about mental illness, the brain, medications and treatments, coping strategies, setting boundaries, and helping each other.  Class members learn from each other, support each other, and become advocates for each other.                                                               — Joyce Saunders,  Trained Family-to-Family Education Program teacher for NAMI

Click here to read more testimonies 

See Article:  Recovery


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You can help by finding out about your loved one’s diagnosis and medication, and the local resources for support such as:


Certified Peer Specialists

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Mental Health Certified Peer Specialists or Drug & Alcohol Certified Recovery Specialists are a beacon of inspiration and hope and they are living proof that recovery is possible.  They have already progressed in their own recovery from mental health disorders and/or drug and alcohol dependency and they now possess an expertise that professional training  often cannot approximate.  

The Personal Recovery Plan that they formulate for your loved one will address the overall health and well-being of each individual, not just their mental health disorder or chemical dependency.  The Recovery Plan will include support groups, therapy, basic health care, stable housing, improvements in family life and personal relationships, and utilizing community resources.  A Personal Recovery Plan may also include job opportunities and vocational development.

(see Grapevine Center’s Certified Peer Specialist Page)

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Other resources include:

  • Drop-in Centers (including Grapevine Center’s Drop-in Center see video)
  • Certified Peer Specialists (Mental Health) and Certified Recovery Specialists (Substance Abuse)
  • Social Rehabilitation
  • Supportive Housing
  • Student Assist
  • Partial for Kids – schooling
  • Local Chapters for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
  • Support Groups eg. Bible Twelve Step Program
  • Nar-Anon and Al-Anon for Chemical Dependency
  • Needs of 18 – 25 year olds – Jobs, job coaches, training and schooling
  • Psyche Rehab
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) 
12 Steps Recovery Program
Narcotics Annonymous

Alcoholics Annonymous

                          Grapevine Center can put you in touch with all these groups                                (Call 724-283-1704 ext. 1 – Bette Peoples)  

Click here to check out our page on  Emergency  & Other Resources

You are Not Alone


6 thoughts on “How to Cope When a Family Member has a Mental Illness

  1. My mother is 95. She has dementia and is in a nursing home. They are recommending Hospice care for her. I am almost broke, in bad health, no help, I can’t stand my life anymore! Everyone has turned their back on me! What the hell am I going through this for ? when I lose mom, I have NO REASON FOR LIVING.

    1. So sorry to hear of your sorrow. Your mom has had a good long life, and tragic as it is to lose a mother (at any age), we all have to go at some time.
      It sounds as though you have made your mom the center of your life, and now you feel your lifeline is being cut. Isolation is a terrible thing and can definitely make your life seem purposeless and leave you feeling depressed. If you live nearby, why not pop into our Drop-In Center. Everything is free, and you will find a lot of friendly, understanding peers who understand what you are going through. Perhaps you could get a Certified Peer Specialist who will help you rebuild your support network. We can help you through this difficult time.
      Come in.

  2. I cry every night seeing my sister go through what she is going through, the doctors have not been able to diagnose exactly what the issue is.
    It is taking away happiness from my family .

    1. Reply to Marion Ndiokho:
      We understand so well!
      Check out our Page on Alternative Views & Resources as well as our Blog Page
      for other viewpoints. Our site is full of helpful information.
      Nutrition is being discovered to be enormously important in Mental Health.
      See Blog Post
      so is exercise, Nature and the outdoors. You and your sister are always welcome at our Drop-In Center, where you will find a lot of sympathetic peers who understand.
      Our behavioral health specialist can also help you; A Certified Peer Specialist could help your sister negotiate her situation and achieve her recovery goals. Certified Peer Specialists also take pressure off the families.
      Check out our Resource page for support groups
      There is a lot of help available, Grapevine Center can help hook you up with the various avenues.

      Good Luck

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