Living with a sibling who has a mental illness can be hard, there’s no doubt about it. And that goes for any mental illness – whether it be depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and so on. For one, it’s almost always hard to understand what they’re going through and, naturally, you want to help but might not exactly know how to. There also might be the problem of being a little jealous of the attention your brother/sister has been getting. It’s okay, you can admit it. We all go through it, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t.
A lot of mental illnesses come from a person’s DNA and all of the science stuff that makes them a person. Some are genetic, which means that someone in your family might have it and it was inherited by your sibling. Some are just chemical imbalances in the brain. Whatever the reason, scientific or not, no one chooses to be mentally ill, and that’s important to remember.
Mental illnesses affect 30 percent of young girls and teens in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). And 7.4 percent of the world have a mental illness. The most common mental illness is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and some symptoms of that are: constantly being worried about things, not being able to relax, difficulty concentrating, muscle aches, sweating and nausea.
These are not all of the symptoms listed by the NIMH, and someone may not have all of the symptoms of GAD, but if they have a handful of them, it would be best to check on them and possibly take them to see a doctor.
GAD can also lead to having depression, the two tend to go hand in hand in some cases. As far as depression is concerned, about 13 percent of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 have major depression. Although there are different kinds of depression, some of the symptoms of the most basic kind of depression are: being sad for long periods of time, feeling guilty for many things, loss of interest in hobbies, getting tired often or easily, trouble sleeping or constantly waking up, change in weight and irritability.
It is important to remember that not everyone with the symptoms of a mental illness will have a mental illness, but if a sibling seems to have several of the symptoms, it would be wise to get them help or to talk to them. That goes for any mental illness. Keep an eye on them to see how they act over a period of time so you can see if they fit the list of symptoms you have looked up. And there are many other mental illnesses that are not the most common in the world that your sibling could possibly have as well. Mental illnesses are not just confined to General Anxiety Disorder and Depression.
It’s also important to remember that living with a sibling who has a mental illness can be life changing for the both of you. Things in the household can change completely and that’ll have an effect on you.
Everyone reacts to things differently, but Andrea Lugo, 19, was very certain in how she’d feel if her older sister, Yazmin, had a mental illness. “I believe it would be a lot more stress put on me with everything I have going on,” she said. “But she’s my big sister and whatever I could do to help get her through what she’s going through, I’ll put everything aside to be that little sister to do whatever needs to be done for her.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the best way to deal with a sibling who has a mental illness is to learn what their mental illness is and get a better understanding of it. That’ll definitely make it seem less scary to you because you’ll actually know what’s going on. You can ask a family member to explain it to you and if you’re both still pretty confused about it, using the internet can be a huge help too.
Yazmin Lugo, 21, said she’s not completely sure how she’d handle her younger sister having a mental illness. “As her big sister, I would definitely try to talk to her and then to figure what the root of the problem is.” She also said that if she needed assistance with getting her sister help, she would make sure to go to her mother.
Once you know what the mental illness is, don’t try and fix everything on your own. Mental illnesses cannot be cured, but they can be treated. So if you’re sibling is already getting help, that’s great! Now make sure you take care of yourself as well. While it is totally understandable to want to help out your brother or sister, you have to make sure you’re doing okay too. Sometimes being a little selfish can be a good thing when it comes to your own health and emotional stability.
According to Psychology Today, there are a few self-care tips that several psychologists follow and you can follow too:
- Pets! If playing with a pet is something you love to do, and just being around a pet tends to make you happy, doing this whenever you aren’t feeling well emotionally can actually help you feel better and it gives you a reason to play with your animal.
- Love: this may not be for everyone, but if you’re a huge hugger, asking friends or family for a hug can easily help you out. It’s a great reminder that these people are there for you can help you out, even if you don’t want to talk about what’s wrong at the moment. Hugs can make you happier.
- Laughter is huge for self-care. Whether it’s a funny joke or a funny picture or just a funny face, if it makes you laugh, take advantage of it! Laughter = smiling = happiness, and it just naturally makes a person feel good.
- Breathing exercises are good for calming yourself down. If you’re feeling stressed out, just take a moment — a minute or two, if you have the time — and focus on your breathing. This can also help you get to sleep, if you’re having trouble with that. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds, breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds. If these amounts of time don’t work for you, don’t worry. Adjust it to whatever you feel comfortable with.
- Yoga/Stretching/Exercise: If Yoga isn’t something that interests you, stretching and exercise can be great for self-care too. It helps you release chemicals from your brain that are scientifically proven to put you in a better mood. Plus, it can just be fun. Yoga is good for meditating and focusing on your body, rather than the things going on around you. This too can be really great for relaxing and caring for yourself.
Lastly, remember you’re not alone in all of this. Find comfort in your own family – parents, brothers and sisters without a mental illness, cousins – if they know about the mental illness. You’re all in this together. If not, you can always try talking to your friends or school counselor about the situation as well. Talking about it can always help.