Tornado Warning
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Tornado Warning
by Diane MacKenzie

The Effects of Undiagnosed Mental Illness

On Family Relationships


When mental illness goes undiagnosed for years, sometimes for generations, it can leave a family in shambles. Abuse, neglect and broken homes are often the result of psychiatric disorders that have been ignored, denied or misunderstood for long periods of time. The entire family gets swept up in the whirlwind that can be caused by mania, psychosis and depression. It's as if, there is a tornado in the living room that everyone can see and feel yet…..everyone pretends not to notice.

The house is a disaster. There are piles of paper on every table. The faucet runs a steady stream of water onto a pile of unwashed dishes. The kids streak through the house at 90 miles per hour, screeching and laughing in loud and frenzied voices. A mother stands in the kitchen helpless to stop swirling twister that scatters any semblance of routine and stability. Either she throws up her hands in frustration or stands up and moves herself into a position of control. Either way, she knows that it will be an arduous task. Undiagnosed mental illness in children touches every member of the family. An ill-fated sibling often receives the brunt of the aggressive behavior. Sibling rivalry escalates until it becomes a full-blown sibling state of war. Brothers and sisters often feel ignored due to the parent's focus on the affected child. Either the well child begins to mimic the behaviors of the affected child or they become the "peacemaker" of the family and strive for perfectionism. One parent may start to blame the other for the child's conduct, continually accusing them of being too lenient or too strict. If the problem cannot be pinned on some contradictory parenting style, then it is often blamed on a faulty gene pool. One parent screaming at the other, "Your family is full of wackos! Look at your Aunt Margie, she's a nut!" Not knowing what is causing a child to behave, in such a confusing/dangerous/unusual manner, can turn even the most Cleaver-ish family on one another. Everyone is looking for someone to blame.

She comes in from work and finds him sleeping on the couch. The kids are nowhere to be seen. A television blares away, in the back of the house, filling empty rooms with unnecessary noise. She shakes him and stands back to see if he will awaken. He startles, jumping off the couch and to his own defense. Two-days prior, he had been a cyclone of energy, zipping around the house and the yard. Fixing this and building that. Home-improvements morph into real estate ventures. A simple plan to repaint the living room becomes a large scale remodeling project. Unfinished rooms and projects are scattered hither and yon. She slipped past him and into the bedroom, without saying a word. Closing the door with a sigh, she sat down on the bed and cried. When a spouse has an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, the phrase "for better or for worse" takes on a whole new meaning. Severe mental illnesses make marital relations difficult. Untreated mental illnesses make marital relations virtually impossible. The affected partner may battle with hallucinations, mania, psychotic episodes and acute depression. Symptoms manifest as behaviors that are devastating. Promiscuity sometimes results in frequent affairs. If the untreated partner is caught, trust is destroyed. Although it may be regained, in periods of stability, often it is crushed again with the onset of the next episode. Substance abuse is common in people with untreated mental illness. Self-medication becomes a way to cope with the confusion and discontent of mental illness. Substance and alcohol abuse increases the risk for domestic violence, financial recklessness and other risk-taking behaviors. The unaffected spouse may clearly see that something is not quite right. However, suggestions that the affected partner seek treatment and diagnosis, often fall on deaf ears. The affected partner frequently refuses to admit or acknowledge that there is a problem with his or her actions. They see themselves as "right" and therefore believe that there is no need to seek professional help. If an underlying mental disorder has been present for the better part of their life, they may develop Borderline Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder. More often than not, the well partner and any children involved, lose all hope and the last alternative is divorce.

Mom is not home again. The kids arrive from school to find the house empty, the cupboards bare and the electricity disconnected. She lost her job weeks ago and has since taken to staying at a local bar all hours of the day and night. The oldest child struggles with a pitcher in an attempt to pour a glass of Kool-Aid for a younger sibling. The plastic pitcher is too full and topples off the counter, leaving a puddle of sticky, blue liquid in the kitchen floor. While attempting to clean up the mess, Mom comes in the front door. She is amiable, even friendly, at first. Upon seeing the kitchen floor, she becomes enraged and starts to scream at the oldest child. As the younger child watches she berates the oldest sibling for being clumsy and careless. She throws the mop down on the floor, hitting the child in the arm and demands that the floor be scrubbed until it is spotless. Storming out of the room, she goes into her room and slams the door behind her, locking it. The children do the best they can in the midst of the confusing display of emotion. Children of parents with untreated mental disorders are prime candidates for abuse and neglect. Combine this with the fact that, most severe mental illnesses are hereditary and therefore, there exists a possibility that the child may also have unresolved mental health issues and you have an explosive situation. Family dynamics have gone awry and the children are sucked into the center of the commotion. If there is another parent in the home, there is likely to be sporadic, heavy silences and unpredictable confrontations, on a daily basis. The affected parent often runs the gamut from abuse to neglect. The behaviors symptomatic of untreated mental illness can produce inconsistent parenting at its highest degree. At times the affected parent seems to be in bed continually. The children are forced to care for themselves. If the child is also exhibiting abnormal behavior, it is virtually impossible for them to accomplish this task. However, if a well parent is still in the home, he or she can provide some stability and shelter to the children.

If the affected parent is a single parent, then the child/children are often left to weather the storms on their own. Sometimes they rely on one another and learn to fill the roles that the affected parent does not. The oldest may become hyper-responsible. They may even take care of the parent to some degree, in much the same way that children of alcohol and substance abusers become miniature caretakers. They learn early on how to cook and clean and hide much of what goes on inside the home to avoid alerting friends and family to the chaos within . In other cases, the children may begin to act out behavior seen in the home. As problems with social skills and authority figures begin to arise, they may show signs of Oppositional Defiant Disorder or full-blown Conduct Disorder.

There is a stigma and a shame still attached to mental illness in our society. Due to years of misunderstanding and steadfast denial, untreated mental illness has reached ridiculous proportions. Families are affected by it everyday. Tornados twirl and dance in houses across the country. Until these disorders are treated as the medical conditions that they are, the twisters will spin on, blowing apart the lives of people right next door to you…maybe even people in your family. It is time to stop the madness. If you suspect that you may have an undiagnosed mental illness, for the sake of those around you, go to a professional. If you suspect that your child is suffering from some form of mental illness, make them an appointment and take care of it now. Early intervention is the key to slowing and controlling these illnesses. If you suspect that someone you know may have an undiagnosed mental illness, urge them to seek help. Do it for yourself…do it for them or their family…do it for the world. This official Tornado Warning has been issued by…


About Diane

I am a poet by nature and a writer at heart....29yo mother of three born in Memphis, TN on Halloween. I love to write...poetry, articles, fiction, the whole shebang. I write for myself and for anyone else who might be interested in my occasionally coherent babble. Enjoy.....

Diane is a talented a gifted writer and her works include many other venues besides Bipolar Children.  She writes for Themestream and her titles can be viewed (and rated!) at the following url...Diane's Articles

Please visit her there.

Diane can be reached by EMAIL


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