Reprinted from "Families" issue of Visions Journal, 2013, 8 (3), p. 4
There are some themes we cover in Visions that don’t really affect all our readers to the same degree. I think Families is one of those themes that will resonate with virtually every reader whether you’re a loved one, a professional, an individual living with a mental health or substance use problem—or some or all of the above.
Right off the bat, I want to say we use a broad definition of ‘family’ here, and actually always do. Biological ties are just one piece of the puzzle. Who you live with is just one piece of the puzzle. If you care deeply about someone and don’t have a professional responsibility over them, you’re family. So close friends and supporters? Please count yourself included in these pages.
I’d like to share that in my own story, family support has at least two layers.
‘Normal’ looks different when there are largely-unrecognized mental health problems in your family (in my family’s case, anxiety). Loving, well-meaning parents who have problem anxiety themselves may never see problem anxiety in their kids as, well, a problem. I wish they had encouraged me to get help then. But we only know what we know. So for my childhood anxiety, family wasn’t my most helpful source of support.
But when I experienced severe depression in my late teens, my mom was really amazing. I was too ill to advocate for myself or to see any hope. She called doctors, pushed receptionists to move up appointments for me, came in to sessions with me to describe how I really was at home. (That was with my absolute blessing. I can “fake it” well. I don’t think my doctors would have known how serious things were without her input). She handled all the paperwork. She gently encouraged me not to cry alone in my room. We went on walks. She asked me what I wanted to do about school, what I wanted to tell people. The rest of my family was pretty good too—my dad’s silent hugs stand out—but Mom was the head of my care team. And given that I’m part of an Asian culture that has some extra taboos around mental illness and ‘family shame,’ her unconditional love was even more amazing. And my best medicine. And I’ve told her so.
It was almost 20 years ago but I still get choked up writing about it. I hope the perspectives in this issue similarly move and inspire you.
About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division