The Hidden Impact of Mental Illness on One’s Family, Friends, and Co-Workers.

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This image is thanks to the generosity of Ryan McGuire and Pixabay.


  1. Individuals with mental illness(es) frequently don’t seek treatment because they feel the cost of treatment (in time, money, side effects) is too great.
  2. Oftentimes the mentally ill fail to consider the true cost of avoiding treatment which must include the handicaps placed upon family, friends, and co-workers.
  3. The cost is especially high when we have or interact regularly with children or teens as they lack the adult brain that can intelligently refuse the handicaps placed upon them when appropriate.
  4. We are not responsible for having the illness, but we are responsible for reducing the handicaps inflicted upon others when possible.
  5. After considering the cumulative cost for ourself and those we have substantive relationships with, does the cost of treatment still outweigh its benefits?

The Cost of Avoiding Treatment

When an individual has a mental illness (such as Depression or Anxiety), it is far too common that he will not pursue nor receive the treatment necessary to reduce or eliminate the illness because he feel that the illness is not severe enough – that he can be handled it on his own.

Today I’m going to push back on this idea by highlighting a simple fact:

While you may not feel your mental illness is handicapping you enough to seek treatment, your family, friends, and co-workers are certainly being handicapped by it.

As John Donne described in his famous poem No Man Is An Island – every person influences and is influenced by the lives of others. Whether our illness is physical or mental – any serious/long-lasting illness handicaps those we love.

Sidebar: We who are ill should not take this as a condemnation of ourselves; acting as beggars receiving the charity of others nor should those who are whole see the ill as lesser than themselves. Perhaps in a future post I will expand on this topic. For now we are focusing on the way that our illness affects others, not on our self-perception and self-worth.

This is especially true if you have or regularly interact with children (including teenagers). An adult (theoretically) has the ability to more objectively and abstractly think about the meaning of another’s illness and thus will be able to minimize the impact of the illness upon themselves.

A child or teen will have a hard time discerning what is the healthy you from the ill you, is more likely to take ownership of the negative consequences of the illness, and the handicap may have an exponentially negative effect upon them.

Examples of Cost in “Real Life”

Enough theory, lets take a look at some practical examples of how this can manifest itself in our lives:

  • We are preoccupied with our anxiety which reduces our ability to be present for our spouse or child.
    • A father cannot stop thinking about whether he will be able to pay the bills this month and thus is unable to listen attentively to his daughter sharing her emotional struggles.
  • We are sapped of our energy by our depression so we leave the majority of the household chores to our spouse.
    • A husband feels so tired from his depression that he has his pregnant wife change the cat’s litter box. The wife contracts toxoplasmosis which is then contracted by the unborn child, who is born with severe deformities.
  • We feel great anxiety whenever there is a chance someone could be injured in an activity and thus prevent our children from participating in many legitimate activities.
    • A mother won’t allow her daughter to ride her bike even within a reasonable distance due to an overwhelming fear her daughter may be kidnapped.
  • Our depression reduces our ability to work effectively and co-workers have to pick up the slack.
    • A man works in a factory with a co-worker assembling widgets. They need to produce 1,000 widgets each day to meet their quota. The man with depression works slowly and is only able to complete 200 widgets each day, leaving his co-worker scrambling to complete 800!
  • We don’t have the emotional reserves to interact with our child in a loving and patient manner.
    • A child is speaking rudely to his father. The father is unable to think through his response to the child, instead lashing out reactively at the child with words that hurt the parent/child relationship and cause the child to withdraw more from the parent (which likely results in further rude / rebellious behavior).
  • We are overly suspicious of the motives of those around us and treat them with unwarranted suspicion.
    • A woman suspects her husband of having an affair even though he has done nothing to warrant this suspicion. The husband becomes insecure in his own character due to the repeated assertions by his wife that he is having an affair (and implicitly, that he is a “bad man”).

Challenge to Reevaluate Cost

The list could go on and on. Think about how one models – children and even teenagers imitate their parents in so many ways (oftentimes despite their endeavor not to be like their parents). Do you wash your hands obsessively? Never take chances due to crippling fear? Always have a negative attitude? Respond combatively? Assume the worst? Pull your hair out? How is this affecting the children?

The point is, when we think about whether we should seek treatment, we need to consider the cost of avoiding treatment not only to ourselves but also to those we interact with…and oftentimes, while we might be willing to pay the price personally, we cannot afford to allow our family, friends, and co-workers to pay the price.

So, take a moment and ask yourself: “How are my symptoms affecting those I love?” If you can’t see clearly the ways in which you are handicapping your loved ones, ask them to tell you. Unfortunately, they may deny it – not because they don’t see it but because your illness encourages you to respond poorly to criticism.

Yes, counseling can be scary and, at times, painful and energy depleting…and, yes, medications have side-effects – sometimes severe – and perhaps if you or I lived on an island alone the cost would be too great…but when there are others involved, well, the cost increases exponentially (as the effect is no longer just upon ourselves but upon each person with whom we have a substantive relationship).

We may wish there was another way – a book we could read, a prayer we could say, a supplement we could take, an exercise routine we could perform, a diet we could eat – and all of these may help – but do they help enough? Are we doing all we can to relieve the suffering of those we love? Or, are we putting our self-interest over the best interests of those around us?

We are not responsible for having an illness, but I firmly believe we are responsible for ensuring that the effect of our illness upon others is minimized to the extent that is possible.

People are not better off without us – we bring great value to the table – but we are responsible to bring as much value and as little damage as we can.


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