May 11, 2012


When mental illness strikes there is always collateral damage that extends beyond the person with the illness to include family and friends. Relationships are often strained to the limit as a person with mental illness struggles to cope with their symptoms and possibly refuses help and lack of resources and support can leave loved ones angry and burnt out. This creates a difficult situation that can result in more hurting than helping, and relationships can be damaged or lost.

Sadly, the most strained relationship is often between a mother and child. Whether your mother has a mental illness or you are the mother of someone with a mental illness, you understand the heartache that exists when the relationship is damaged or lost. Fortunately, even the most difficult situations can be improved, and working towards reconciliation and restoration with your loved one well worth it.

So, this Mother’s Day I encourage you to seek reconciliation with your mother or with your son or daughter. Hurtful words or regrettable actions can be forgiven; do not allow them to rob you of this relationship. Forgiveness is a gift to give and to receive. In many cases, it is the best Mother’s Day gift.

Restoring a relationship that has been damaged by mental illness begins with the acceptance that the relationship will be different. Making adjustments that can restore and sustain the relationship, include:

  • Realizing that you are not the cause nor do you have the cure for mental illness. Also, realize that you cannot provide all the care needed. Locate resources in your community. Day programs/club houses, NAMI Connection Recovery Support Groups, social services and case management provide social opportunities, support, and professional care that can greatly enrich lives, as well as, lighten the load.

  • Education brings understanding, and understanding brings compassion. Contact your NAMI Affiliate for information about NAMI Family-to-Family and NAMI Peer-to-Peer education programs in your community.

  • Remember to set and respect boundaries. Keep communication clear and concise. Revise your expectations. You should not expect everything or nothing from another individual, be realistic in your expectations.

  • Renegotiate your emotional relationship. Mutual respect will provide equilibrium.

  • Taking care of oneself is essential to having a strong and loving relationship. If you are ill, be willing to receive treatment and manage your illness by cooperating with your medical team and taking prescribed medication. If you are a caregiver, do not ignore your own needs. Providing ongoing, long term support requires you to be at your best.

Statistics illustrate the enormous size and economic impact mental illness has on the United States, but they do not reflect the impact it has on our families. We do not have to allow mental illness to damage or destroy our relationships. Do not give up. Forgiveness works to reconcile and love to restore. I wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.

Dawn Brown is a NAMI HelpLine Information and Referral Specialist and mother of six. Her son Matthew is living with schizophrenia. 

Submit To The NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.


NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).