What might a caregiver feel?

It is normal to be distressed and upset when a family member is diagnosed with a mental illness.

Some common emotions include feeling as though they have lost the person they used to know (i.e. the person you love has became someone else), or feeling that all hopes are lost for the patient’s future (i.e. the child cannot handle a full-time job anymore). This is particularly so when patients are young. Other than that, a change of roles may happen within the family (i.e. parents having to take up as much responsibility as they did when their child was younger), and loss of confidence (i.e. blaming themselves for not being able to protect their child), etc.

Some family members may feel guilty and feels partially responsible for the illness of the patient. This may put further stress on the caregivers. Family members may also be extremely sad about it. In order to recover from grief, it is important to acknowledge and accept the emotions felt at different stages. The experience of grief varies from person to person, even within the same family, and each family member may feel different degrees and stages of sadness. Nonetheless, there are some common stages we may go through:

Shock/ In Denial

This response is a psychological defense mechanism to protect us from sadness. Usually family members may trivialize the symptoms and attribute that to other causes such as lack of sleep etc. Some example of response including family members may say that “this can’t be”, or that “the doctor doesn’t know what he was talking about” etc.


Family members may be angry when they are feeling helpless and weak. The anger can be directed at those whom we consider to be responsible for the onset of the disorder, ourselves, relatives, or even at the people who are trying to help the patient (i.e. professionals, social workers, teachers etc.).


Family members may keep thinking about what could have been done, or what might have been done better to avoid this situation. If these feelings are not dealt with properly, the guilt may stop us from recovering from grief.


When family members realised the severity of the illness, they may become depressed. Depression can be reflected in the following behaviour, thoughts or feelings: appetite or sleep patterns may be affected, fatigue may be experienced, the person may feel detached, lonely, isolated, numb or self-pitying, tearful etc. Sometime professional help may be needed.


In this stage, family members will learn that life goes on even though the patient is ill. We start to accept the fact that we have lost something, and are capable of handling different emotions. When family members are able to perceive the loss as part of their life experience, they may start to recover from the grief. 
Experiencing the above stages is very common, but not all family members will experience them, and the duration of each stage may vary. If you are experiencing them, try not to avoid these feelings, but instead accept them, as they will gradually help you to recover.