What Is It Like to Support a Sibling With a Mental Illness

Like most siblings, my brother and I fought, bugged each other but we also stood by each other, supported and encouraged each other.

What makes our relationship unique, is my brother has a learning disability and lives with mental illness. He is very emotional and sensitive.

My brother was about a year or two when my parents realized there was something not right about his hearing.  They took him to specialists and yes, he had to have tubes put in both his ears.  For 28 years, we had to go to the hospital to have tubes taken out and put new ones in.  At one point, he had severe hearing loss in both ears and could barely hear anything.  As a result, it brought him way behind in school.  He became depressed, angry, lost self-confidence and self-esteem.

On top of that, out home life was not the best.  Our father lived with manic depression all our lives and I know my brother was affected a lot more than I was.  He was the one who would get between our parents during the violent fights.  Many times my brother would stand up to our father and they would fight, sometimes physically but mostly verbally.  I remember one day like it was yesterday, they had an argument and my brother ran out of the house, my father went out after him with the car.  My mom and I watched and screamed in horror as my father tried to hit my brother with the car!  To this day I cannot remember if my brother came back to the house or if he stayed away.  There were many times where my brother would run away from home, stay away for days and we’d find out he had no where to go and would sleep in trees so animals wouldn’t get him.

In grade school,  he developed quite an anger problem.  My parents would get a call from the school saying my brother hurt his hand while punching the brick wall outside.  We didn’t know how to deal with his anger so he went to a private military school for a few years.  That did help him.  Once he learned how to deal with his anger physically, we found he started listening to heavy metal music whenever he felt depressed.  This was in the ’90’s and we had no idea he was depressed.

Our father passed away in 2004 and we loved him dearly but we were also very relieved the abuse was over.  Shortly after he passed, my mom and brother started having violent night terrors.  All they could think about was everything that had happened.  My brother went to a psychologist and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD.  Therapy has helped him greatly and after 13 years, he’s still going.  He is coping better, there are movies and TV shows he cannot watch, neither can I.  My brother still has triggers, holidays and special days are still difficult but the three of us are very close now and can talk about anything.  We are there for each other and are our support system now; something we never had before.

There are times where my mother can’t seem to help my brother, it does get mentally draining.  Because we’ve all been through the same situation, I find it is easier to help my brother.  He will call me when he needs to talk to someone, who understands, and we’ll talk for hours sometimes.  It does get very emotional and a lot of triggers, when we talk, but I feel it helps us both cope. Sometimes I look back and wonder how the hell we made it through it all, we are a family and we stuck together.  I don’t have all the answers but I am always there with a caring, listening ear, and will always continue to do so.

Although doctors are there to help, prescribe the right medications, regulate diets and so on, they don’t provide the daily compassionate care that is needed; siblings can do that.

My best advice for other siblings:

  1. Keep educated about mental health and the symptoms your sibling is living with.  I’m not going to lie, it will get frustrating but the more knowledgeable you become, the easier it can be.
  2. If you don’t live together, keep in contact regularly.  This way your sibling with mental illness do not feel isolated.
  3. Try not to get angry with your sibling.  It is very important to separate your sibling and the mental illness, they are not always in control of their behaviour or what is being said.
  4. Be sure to take care of yourself too!  This is very important.  I have PTSD as well and find sometimes it’s too much for me.  We’ve dealt with the same issues all our lives and it causes too many triggers for me.  I know when I’m in a good frame of mind and know when I can help my brother.

I’ve become a mental health advocate to help spread awareness and knowledge about mental health, based on my experience.  I wish we had the help back in the 80’s and 90’s but not much was known or talked about in regard to mental health.  I’m ready to change that in any way I can.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s