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Denial in the Family Member--A Different Perspective

Since my diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia in 2007 I have participated in several support groups and trainings to be a facilitator. Therefore, I have heard many of my peers discuss different concerns from side effects of medications to lack of support, and many other important matters.

Even though what I am about to discuss may NOT apply to you as a family member or consumer (a person living with mental health concerns) it occurs quite frequently, and thus is the reason to bring it to one's attention...I am talking about denial. Denial in the sense that it is refusal to believe or accept a person's diagnosis of mental illness. Denial comes in many different forms for both the consumer and the family member.

In fact, denial is a manifestation of stigma. In short, stigma is criticism of a person on the grounds of their affiliation with a group (that being mental illness) based on lack of understanding or stereotypes. For example, common misconceptions about schizophrenia is that all people who have the disorder have split personality and/or are violent, this is NOT true. Finally, I am going to elaborate on denial of the family member(s) for now based either actual experience or testimonies I have heard from peers.

Unfortunately, a common myth is that mental illness is caused by bad parenting. In my experience, people still believe this to be true. After my nervous breakdown which led doctors to diagnosis me with schizophrenia my family members were in disbelief at the occurrence of mental illness in their Ashley. And some of them believed there was someone to blame for my mental health condition and that person was my mother. This caused a huge strain on family relationships for a while and slowed the process of understanding of what having schizophrenia means for the consumer and family member.

A common, yet NOT universal form of denial is avoiding the situation all together. Some members of the family choose not to participate in the recovery stage because of the stigma associated with mental illness. They are more concerned with the way they will appear to other people than their relative's wellness. Therefore, they opt out to discuss anything related to mental illness, and in some cases do not even want to be seen in public with the consumer.

In addition to that, some people hinder their relative's social life or life in general because they believe their mental illness will not allow them to participate in regular daily activities despite the fact that they are coping with the illness with the necessary treatments. Accordingly, some family members make up reasons why their relative living with a mental health concern cannot go to some places or do some things. For example, some relatives believe it is inappropriate for the consumer to attend college, because they assume it is too difficult. Nowadays, colleges make accommodations for people with disabilities. In fact, I am in college studyig psychology to continue to be an advocate for mental health. Going to college or having a career is possible living with mental illness with treatment and support.

Ultimately, the above examples of varying forms of denial is unacceptable and ludicrous. If I described you, change is possible. Here are some ways a family member can be supportive of the consumer:
  • Research the mental illness

  • Talk to them

  • Show interest in their lives

  • Spend time with them

  • Be understanding of their symptoms and struggles

If you would like to perform research and to learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc. (EMM), the Naional Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


Lady_Amanda said…
Hi Ashely,

My Mom is often in denial. She thinks I had a perfect childhood (which did have a pretty good one, just not the best) and she doesn't understand how this could happen. Another thing my Mom will do is compare our family to others. She say all the time, "How come so and so has six kids and there is nothing wrong with them, but I have one and this has to happen?" Thanks for blogging about this. I think a lot of us dealing with mental illness deal with this in our families. So thank you for bringing to the for front.

Hugs and blessings,
Valash said…
Hello Amanda,

Thank you for your sharing your experience. Change is possible so keep hope alive that your mother will get pass that denial stage. I am glad you can relate to this topic.

Have a great day!

Anonymous said…
It is a wonderful write up. Thanks for sharing it. It is indeed important to give the correct diagnosis and treatment, but in addition it is also important to make sure the misconceptions regarding the causation of illness are put to rest. It saves a lot of blame and guilt on part of the parents.
Sadly old concepts like poor parenting causing schizophrenia are still in vogue.
Haapy Healing to one and all.
Anonymous said…
What do you do if the patient is in denial and parents are in denial?

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