May 25, 2007

"Well Sibling" Syndrome: Siblings of the Children With Severe Mental Illness

When a child has a severe psychological or psychiatric disorder such as bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, or schizophrenia, strain is placed on the entire family. An inordinate amount of time, energy and commitment is made on the parents' part in order to care for the ill child.

The well brothers and sisters of the ill child can be directly affected emotionally, and even physically, by the behaviors of the ill child. Dealing with physical threats and abuse at the hands of their ill brother or sister, they may be left feeling emotionally battle-scarred. And because of the drain on their parents' emotions and energies from caring for the ill child, these well siblings can be left feeling neglected, with their own emotional needs left unfullfilled.

These sisters and brothers of a child whose illness affects his/her brain, thoughts, behaviors and actions, may suffer profoundly from this stressful, often chaotic, family environment in which the ill child takes center stage.

Researchers are finally starting to look at what they're calling the "well sibling" syndrome.

American RadioWorks has an audio article (and the transcript) on this subject with interviews with parents and children describing the difficulties they face, the guilt, stress, depression and the resulting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that some of the well siblings end up with. Mentioned are the siblings' fears that they may catch the illness their brother or sister has, and the very real possibility that after their parents can no longer care for their sibling, that task will fall to them.

Also interviewed in the show are Diane Marsh who wrote Troubled Journey: Coming to Terms with the Mental Illness of a Sibling or Parent with co-author Rex Dickens, himself the brother of three mentally-ill siblings, Clea Simon, who wrote the memoir, Madhouse: Growing up with a Mentally Ill Brother and Sister, and Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn Spiro, identical twins who co-authored Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and their Journey through Schizophrenia.

Read about it, or listen to the audio: A Burden to Be Well: Sisters and Brothers of the Mentally Ill

Recommended books related to this topic: CLICK HERE


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