Updated 25 September 2015

Effects of mental illness on the family

Family life can be disrupted by the illness of a member.


Family life can be disrupted by the illness of a member. The stigma attached to mental illness often makes if difficult for the family and affected person to cope.

As with any other serious illness, emotional, social and financial problems can develop in a family that has a member affected by mental illness.

Emotions which the family may experience on diagnosis of a mental illness may be:

  • Denial - “This can’t be true. This hasn’t happened in our family before.”
  • Fear and anxiety - “What did we do to cause it?”
  • Anger - “Does the doctor know what he’s talking about? How could fate allow this to happen?”
  • Feelings of loss - “Our dreams and ambitions for our child are gone.”
  • Helplessness - “There is nothing we can do.”

Information supplied by Cape Support for Mental Health, a support group for friends and families of people with serious mental illnesses. They can be contacted at (021) 671 1573.


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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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