The Effects of Mental Illness on Families

2014 Peace of Mind Conference

When you hear the term, "mentally ill," you likely think about the victim. But what about the family of the victim who suffers in silence? In this 40-minute session from the 2014 Peace of Mind Conference, author and speaker Amy Simpson tells the difficult truth about the effects of mental illness on victims’ families and offers practical help.

Amy Simpson is a Senior Editor of Christianity Today's Leadership Journal, has published articles in Christianity Today, Relevant, and Group Magazine, and is the author of Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry and the award-winning Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission. Since childhood, she has spent much of her life caring for her mother who suffers from schizophrenia. 

If you have a family member with mental illness, what Amy shared might sound familiar. If not, you might be amazed at what families of mental illness victims endure. Their struggle is lonely, difficult and long.  

If you’re a family member of someone with mental illness, what was familiar to you? What feelings can you resonate with?
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If you're not a family member of someone with mental illness, what stood out to you in what Amy shared?
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Amy mentioned the shame that her family felt, which often led to isolation. Often we feel shame over things we can’t control. How can a community of faith help us deal with whatever shame or isolation we may be feeling?
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As with any struggle, it’s important for families to learn how to cope. If you’ve had a family member with mental illness, how have you coped? Which of your coping mechanisms do you think are healthy, and which ones need to change?
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Though families of the mentally ill often feel helpless, there is hope. Amy urged people to love people in small ways in order to bring about comfort, aid, and peace to families. Here are three specifics:

  • Acknowledge your own brokenness.
  • Treat hurting people like people.
  • Talk appropriately and redemptively about your own problems. 

Acknowledging your own brokenness admits that even though you’re not mentally ill, you do have other things in your life that keep you from being perfect or whole. What are some areas of brokenness in your own life?
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Treating hurting people like people involves eye contact, smiles, and conversations with people you may be afraid of or uncomfortable around. Who comes to your mind as someone who’s hurting, but who you’ve avoided? What are some ways you can take steps toward that person rather than away from them?
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Luke 5:12-13 (ESV)

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

12While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”13And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jesus was the master of ministering to hurting people. When people were sick or despised, he made it a point to be near them, not afraid of them. Notice that Jesus went so far as to touch the man with leprosy while others were likely repulsed by him.

What do you think it means to talk “appropriately and redemptively” about your own problems? Considering the area of brokenness from your life you shared earlier, what would that look like for you?
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Amy shared a lot of ways for people to provide long and short term care to victims of mental illness and their families:

  • Bring meals.
  • Take care of children.
  • Offer financial help.
  • Mow their lawns.
  • Give family members rides. 
  • Visiting loved ones in the hospital.
  • Check in with them and cheer them on.
  • Communicate honestly and clearly.
  • Join support groups like Al-Anon. 
  • Refer your friends to counselors and support groups… and then stick around as their friend.
  • Advocate for conversations and programming related to mental illness. 
  • Set an example and set boundaries.
  • Be patient.
She noted that if you’re healthy, you might have a special calling to help people who suffer.  

You don’t have to be a family member of a victim to take action. If your heart is hurting for those with mental illness, what are 1-2 steps you can take now to help the victims and families who need you?
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Amy’s final words were to have hope. There is more awareness and more medications than ever before, and people are supporting those with mental illness in new ways. God provides all of these blessings and grants strength to those who seek Him. 

For more information on the Peace of Mind Conference, visit