Stepsister Just Another Member of the Family to Suffer Mental Illness

Reader’s Question

My stepsister just revealed to me that she believes that an old boyfriend from thirty years ago is communicating with her through songs on the radio and monitoring her through her cell phone. She also claims she saw him at a restaurant, but he denied that he knew her.

My stepsister’s mother had severe schizophrenia and was institutionalized until her death several years ago. Her father was diagnosed manic depressive and committed suicide. Her brother also committed suicide. Her son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

I am so sad for her and for her family because of the mental illness that appears to afflict them. I want to help her, but she views anyone who challenges her delusions as part of a conspiracy. Other than delusions, she actually functions quite well. She is recently divorced (only 8 months ago) and doesn’t really have anybody. She’s had such a sad life, and I’d really like to help her. What to do?

Psychologist’s Reply

Be as supportive and reassuring as you can, but also encourage your stepsister to seek and invest in the therapy she will most likely need. The kind of mental illness that appears to afflict this family is often chronic and/or progressive and most often requires not only good psychiatric treatment but also supportive counseling and care.

There are numerous organizations that provide information and assistance to those afflicted with mental illness as well as their family and friends. A good place to start would be the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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