Tag Archives: Family Dynamics

‘Happy’ mother’s day

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. You may take that as a given that things are going sorta kinda okay with my bipolar mother. Now that she’s in a retirement home so many things are easier including mandatory family obligations such as Mother’s Day.

While Jezebel is generally to be avoided, kudos to them for their recent discussion thread about Mother’s Day and toxic parental relationships. If you’re in that situation, you may find the discussion thread sympathetic.


Tagged , , , ,

Public figures open up about mental illness in the family

It may be the cynic in me but politicians have two keys to action:

  • It wins votes
  • It affects me

I don’t care which is the prime mover here, but a recent article in the American newspaper the Hartford Courant discusses how politicians the US have tried putting mental health on the political agenda.

Hartford Courant

As Mental Health Issues Rise, Politicians Open Up About Family Experiences

March 15, 2014|By DANIELA ALTIMARI, The Hartford Courant

Speaking to a crowd of about 100 people at a West Hartford synagogue last month, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy plowed through his usual set of talking points on jobs, the economy and the state budget.

Then, near the end of a question-and-answer session, someone in the audience asked about mental health policy and Malloy’s brisk, business-like public persona abruptly dissolved.

“By the way,” he said, pausing for a long beat, “One of my own sons suffers from mental health challenges. … I have some expertise in this area personally.”

Malloy has never been big on Oprah-style expressions of emotion. His image is that of a data-driven pragmatist who favors numbers over the politics of personal pain. After broaching the topic of his son’s struggles, he quickly retreated back to the more comfortable terrain of government policy.

Yet the Democratic governor’s decision to mention, ever so fleetingly, his son’s condition signifies a new level of openness on a topic that once was considered none of the public’s business.

In recent months, several politicians have spoken candidly about their family’s private anguish. Creigh Deeds, a state senator from Virginia who was stabbed by his mentally ill son, appeared on “60 Minutes” to press for new mental health legislation.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a public statement of support after his daughter, Chiara de Blasio, detailed her struggles with depression and substance abuse in a highly-polished YouTube video.

And Tom Foley, one of the Republicans hoping to replace Malloy in the governor’s office, often alludes to a chronic mental health condition afflicting a member of his family.

Advocates for the mentally ill say a willingness to acknowledge such deeply personal matters marks an important milestone in the long quest to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness.

“The thing about mental illness is, it’s incredibly democratic,” said Kate Mattias, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “And the wider the array of people who come out and say they, or someone in their family, is dealing with a mental health challenge, the more it moves the dial in normalizing it.”

In 2009, when Malloy was still mayor of Stamford, his then-21-year-old son Ben was arrested in connection with an attempted robbery. At the time, Malloy and his wife, Cathy, released a statement saying their son suffered from an “emotional illness.”

In an interview with the New York Times shortly after their son’s arrest, the Malloys recounted their middle son’s struggle with what they said was a form of depression. They noted other high-profile political families who have grappled with similar issues, including the Kennedys and the Gores.

It was Cathy Malloy who insisted on a public statement. “I think it’s really important for us to say that this is what we’re going through,” she told the Times. “We understand that a lot of other people go through this.

Although one of Malloy’s Democratic primary opponents urged him to drop out of the gubernatorial race immediately after the incident, the crisis was scarcely mentioned in the run-up to the 2010 general election.

But that was before the Newtown school shootings brought a new focus on the need to improve services for people with mental illness. In the aftermath of that tragedy, President Obama promised “a national conversation” on mental health.

Parents of children who have experienced a mental health crisis applaud Malloy for simply acknowledging his son’s affliction.
“I know how hard it is and I commend him for being able to speak publicly about it,” said Mary Jo Andrews of West Hartford. “In some ways, we’ve all bottled it up.”

When Andrews’ daughter, now 18, was admitted to a residential psychiatric program at age 12, Andrews and her husband initially weren’t even sure they would tell their own siblings.

Andrews has since grown more comfortable talking about her daughter’s condition. With her daughter’s blessing, she joined a group of Connecticut mothers who appeared recently on “60 Minutes” to discuss the shortcomings of mental health care for children and young adults in the U.S. Creigh Deeds was featured on the same episode.

“It’s very healthy to share these stories,” Andrews said. “When our political leaders put a face on mental illness, they can be real leaders.”

Personal Insight

Mental health remains a difficult topic.

Addressing a group of gun owners in January, Foley said Malloy and the legislature should have done more to help those struggling with mental illness instead of passing a host of new gun control laws.

“I know from personal experience how little support there is here and elsewhere for families with mental health challenges,” Foley said at the time. “I would have focused on that.”

That’s as far as his public comments went. For Foley, who has packaged himself as a can-do businessman, displays of emotion have no place on the campaign trail. The issue never came up in his unsuccessful 2010 run for governor; he only mentions it now in the context of the post-Sandy Hook discussion on gun control.

“I don’t really talk about it a lot,” Foley said in a recent interview. “I consider it a private matter. I don’t want it to become a campaign issue.”

When policy issues surrounding mental health care are raised, he cites his family’s experience in passing. “I’ll only mention I understand because I have this personal experience,” he said.

Foley’s sister, three years his senior,was diagnosed with manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder, Foley said. The family placed her in the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan., one of the nation’s premier in-patient psychiatric treatment centers.

Their mother died in 1976. “My father did what he could but he was in his 80s and then he was gone too,” Foley said.

So primary responsibility for his sister fell to Foley. “I don’t want to imply that she didn’t have good days. Twenty years ago, more than half her days were good,” Foley said. “She’s a lovely person. She and I are very close.”

Foley said he brings up his sister’s experience not to “brag” about his role as her caregiver and supporter but because it has provided him with insight into the problems faced by people with mental illness and their families.
“I almost universally find people are at a loss when they need residential care for a young or middle-aged person,” Foley said.

Foley said he knows that residential treatment is not the right choice for every patient and he is not advocating for a return of state-run institutions. But, he said, the complex patchwork of services that has replaced institutional care has many holes.

“A lot of the supports have gone away,” Foley said. “States had institutions. Those institutions were abandoned in the 1970s for a lot of good reasons, but nothing grew up to replace them.”

Foley said his family’s experience points to a need for more resources and more education. “A lot of families just don’t know what they’re dealing with,” he said. To help them, Foley proposed a public awareness campaign on the signs and symptoms of mental illness.

Malloy’s 2014 legislative agenda includes funding for expanded mental health services for young adults and mandatory mental health crisis intervention training for all Connecticut police officers.

Malloy also is proposing $2.2 million in new funding for 110 supportive housing units for people with mental illness. “That is one of the biggest things that can help people with mental illness stay in the community instead of being hospitalized,” said Kate Mattias of National Alliance on Mental Illness.

And the governor’s budget calls for spending $250,000 on an anti-stigma campaign with billboards and public service announcements to promote an “accepting environment” that encourages people with mental illnesses not to be ashamed to seek treatment.

That’s a point Malloy emphasized in his comments to the members of the synagogue a few weeks back.

“We talk about mental health in all of the wrong terminology,” he said. “So much so that we scare people from actually seeking help. That’s a problem.

“A big part of what we all have to do is … admit who we are and what we are, and who our family is and what our family is, and who our friends are and what our friends have gone through,” Malloy said. “Once we do that, I think it’s one of those paradigm shifts again.”

Tagged ,

Video — Living with a bi-polar parent or partner

Several people discuss the massive centre of gravity of having a bi-polar person their lives.

Tagged , ,

Video — Women living with men who have depression

Take home points: take care of yourself and get help.

Tagged , ,




  1. People who do not do the caregiving may have opinions but the ones who do the caregiving have the votes.
  2. There is no strategy for family caregivers of the bi-polar. Only tactics. The job of a caregiver is to be like the captain of a ship travelling the ocean with a hole beneath the waterline. Your job is to get the ship pointed in the right direction.
  3. Families reduce to one caregiver for the bi-polar relation.
  4. Virtually every article you will read about being a caregiver for a bi-polar parent will be useless if it addresses symptomatic emotions rather than causes.
  5. Social workers will not help the caregiver until the caregiver is also a mental patient.
  6. The best a bi-polar caregiver can do us install processes to reduce the severity of damage caused.
  7. The bi-polar parent can end up respecting family caregivers in inverse ratios to the amount of contact had with those people.
  8. Therapy doesn’t CURE anyone, it really just gives an individual a forum for feedback where possibly awareness and insight on how to change thinking and behaviours may result. (I realize that this is a sweeping statement but this is a blog for caregivers to family members with disabling mental illness.)
  9. Calling people on their lies accomplishes nothing. So, if a bossy relation makes demands, and you’re in private, say nothing. The person is in a point scoring game about family politics where only they know the rules.
  10. To paraphrase Batman, you don’t have to save anyone.


Tagged , , ,

Video: Caring for mentally ill family members

The health show Tonic recently broadcast a segment on the difficulties of caring for relations with mental illness. Tonic is shown on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation network and covers health issues generally.


Tagged , , , , ,

Video: Caregivers and Bossy Siblings

The sibling, or other family relation who swans in with no end of helpful advice for the caregiver is the subject of this video.  My own family dynamic is not so complicated but for those of you with more centrifugal forces inside your family, this recording may provide a platform for discussion.

I’ve mentioned this video before in another entry, but it might have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Here’s that video again.

Tagged , ,

Family Dynamics and Caregiving

Here’s a tool for your toolbox.

I’ve mentioned previously that often the adult bi-polar parent is down to one caregiver — you. Why? Because everyone else has figured out that the ‘pleasure of his company’ is not worth it. That doesn’t mean that siblings and other relations won’t periodically swan in with directives, demands and decisions. Of course, what’s actually going on here is that they’re overcompensating. They’re pretending to themselves that they’re doing their duty and participating in care. From our perspective, it comes in as a barrage of unsolicited demands from someone who is implying we have a duty to report to someone who has no stake in the game or any idea what’s going on.

  • Maxim: Relations who are not doing the caregiving have opinions, not input.

If you get a heap of advice coming at you from out if the blue, copy and paste this video link into an  e-mail. To summarize, the family member who suddenly submits you to a heap of instructions like a Commisar can safely be told ‘Thank you for your input, but since I’m doing all of the work and you’re not, I’ll do it in order that best fits the schedule.’

Note the verbal judo there: ‘the schedule’ tells the person that things are underway that she or he doesn’t know about.

Watch out for phrases including ‘But she’s my mother too’ or ‘You’re not the only one in the family’ or ‘You’re not keeping me informed.’None of these phrases actually demonstrate a duty on your behalf to someone who shows up periodically to throw non-existent weight around.

If they person begins to throw a temper tantrum, keep in mind that what may actually be going on here is that the person is not really involved, feels guilty and wants to — perhaps for status reasons, ethical reasons or social reasons — look like he’s involved. The former is easier because you can convert them into useful labour. If they’re just showing up to boost their own egos in private conversation with you, or to build their own social capital by giving you grief in front of others, then all that is needed is one second of bravery to shut them down.


  • If it’s guilt, honest blundering or insecurity – Give that person a specific but non medical task to do like taking the bi-polar parent to the barber or hairdresser, shopping or out to lunch. It’s not critical path stuff requiring long term commitment.
  • If it’s guile, status related or other nonsense – Pull the person to one side and ask questions like ‘Name any of her physicians,’ or ‘List her medications,’ or ‘Remind me what her last three medical appointments were,’ ‘Name her favourite nurse,’  or ‘When was her last pedicure’? This’ll shut ’em up.
    Asking those three questions in front of the family is the nuclear option. There is no need for you to escalate. Be mild at first and say that ‘I’m just respecting your track record: you’re not involved and have no interest.’ However, if the fool doubles down because he wants to score points in front of someone else, feel free to push the big red button with my blessing. You have enough faeces flung at you from your bi-polar parent, there’s no reason to also get it from your unhelpful relations.

The Pleasure of His Company – 1961

Tagged , , ,
%d bloggers like this: