MENTAL HEALTH PRACTICESeptember 2009 | Volume 13 | Number 118
When preparing some work for me, Leanne was open and honest when discussing her brother’s major mental illness and the effect it had and was having on her family life and her training.
We hope this paper offers readers an insight into the trials and tribulations faced when a close family member has a serious mental illness. We hope readers will gain an understanding of what it is like to have a sibling diagnosed with schizophrenia.
In what follows there is a discussion about the feelings, isolation and stigma encountered by Leanne when she learnt that her brother ‘was schizophrenic’, a term we accept is not politically correct. It shows the importance of appropriate support from mental health services and professionals to enable families to cope effectively with the situation.
Leanne Bowman’s story ‘I am a third-year mental health nursing student and by no means an expert on schizophrenia. But I can explain how the condition affects the family because my brother Jamie (not his real name) was diagnosed with this severe and enduring mental illness when he was 18 years old. Our mother is his primary caregiver and I am the secondary, but no less involved, carer.
‘When Jamie was diagnosed in 2003 I experienced a mixture of feelings and emotions. First, I felt a great sense of loss, almost like a bereavement. In a sense it was a bereavement because, while Jamie looked the same, he acted very differently from the brother I knew. This process is described by Kuipers et al (2002) who identify two types of loss: the loss
As An occasional user of mental health services, and a mental health nurse of many years’ standing, I have some insight into the needs, requirements and problems facing mental health professionals and the users and carers we come into contact with. But the one thing I have never given much thought to over the years, apart from as an academic or professional requirement, was how my own mental health issues were affecting and had affected loved ones around me.
As professionals, we know it makes sense to foster relationships with service users, based on listening and understanding. But from political and common-sense points of view it is vital to remember to listen to our patients’ carers, their parents, siblings, children and other loved ones, and understand what the experience of mental illness is like for them, as well as for the patient in our care.
I met Leanne, a mental health nursing student, when she was embarking on her final year of study.
A diagnosis of psychosis can have a devastating effect on close family members of the person concerned. Stephan Kirby introduces Leanne Bowman’s account of living with a brother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia five years ago
Stephan Kirby suggests that mental health professionals need a greater insight into the effects a diagnosis of serious mental illness has on family members. Leanne Bowman’s account explains how her brother’s diagnosis was received and how living with him since then has introduced new challenges to her life.
Keywords Serious mental illness, schizophrenia, siblings, advocacy
MENTAL HEALTH PRACTICE September 2009 | Volume 13 | Number 1 19
‘I felt that because I was the older sibling I had the responsibility to protect my brother from suffering, but I had somehow failed him’ Leanne Bowman
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MENTAL HEALTH PRACTICESeptember 2009 | Volume 13 | Number 1
of the person we knew and the loss of the hopes and aspirations we had for them. I also experienced “survivor’s guilt” (Kuipers et al 2002) because I was the “normal one” and had managed to escape the suffering of being mentally ill. I felt that because I was the older sibling I had a responsibility to protect my brother from suffering, but I had somehow failed him. I also felt frustrated because my mother and I seemed to be doing everything we possibly could to help Jamie, but it was never enough.’
stigmatisation ‘I had a bas

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