Siblings of people with mental illness

Siblings of people with mental illness. 

12 December 2017

There’s a blog I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. It’s about the siblings of people with mental illness. More specifically, it’s about my brother, Marcus.

So it started in Centennial Park.

Well not really… it started many years ago in discussions with my mum about siblings of schizophrenia, the special burden it places on siblings, and the burden of my illness on Marcus. It also started during my studies around the subject of schizophrenia, with the realisation that many people with the illness do not have supportive and understanding families or siblings.

But this particular story began at the café in Centennial Park.

I had an apple juice and a glorious Angus beef burger. My brother had a short black and a pie of chicken and red wine.

I told him that I wanted to write this blog, and asked him what it has been like for him to have a brother with schizophrenia.

His replies were suffused with love.

He told me of his original state of not knowing what the illness was, and not knowing how seriously I would be affected. He was worried about my well-being. He told me he felt shielded from the brunt of the illness by mum and dad, who have acted as my primary carers at the times I needed support.

He said he was concerned that I live a happy life and, with brotherly love, conveyed that there would always be a part of him dedicated to looking out for me.

I asked him if he felt it was unfair that I had taken the lion’s share of mum and dad’s attention over the years. He replied, to my surprise, that in fact he valued his independence and was not concerned about this.

He also told me that my illness had given him something important to think about and work towards; especially as I have become a consumer advocate. He was happy he could move from telling just close friends about it to ‘coming out’ as a brother of someone with schizophrenia, publicly and on Facebook. He even said he was proud of me.

I guess I have a wonderful brother!

It saddens me, however, that many families do not have the same responses, generated by love, as my brother has. It saddens me that some families see their ill relative as a chore, as an embarrassment, as a constant problem that cannot be fixed so might as well be left alone. So many people with mental illness live their lives in isolation, with visits only so often by case workers or social workers. This is, of course, due in part to the move to “deinstitutionalise” – to move people from clinics and wards into the community. Particularly now, in the festive season when families come together, I feel for the people who must live their lives alone, without hope, without love, without support.

I love my brother, and I am blessed to have him in my life. And I pray that a similar blessing be shared by all other people whose lives are marked by serious mental illness.

Dr Richard Schweizer

Dr Richard Schweizer - Photo Credit