Burdens families face in caring for mentally ill members

By Thuy Quynh   May 28, 2022 | 05:11 pm PT
Burdens families face in caring for mentally ill members
A mother comforts her son, who has been suffering from a mental illness after a traffic accident damaged his brain, at her house in Bac Giang Province. Photo by VnExpress/Hai Hien
The responsibility of caring for Hung, a 30-year-old engineer with mental illness, has taken a financial and psychological toll on all three of his family members.

When he was in high school, Hung won first place in a national math contest. He worked for a foreign company after graduating from the Hanoi University of Science and Technology and spent some time in Japan.

Covid-19 appeared at this time and spread around the world, including Japan.

Living alone in a foreign country amid the stress brought by the pandemic, he began to exhibit symptoms of psychosis. Untreated, he became seriously ill, and one day decided to jump off a building and end his life.

Dr Tran Thi Hong Thu, deputy director of Mai Huong Daycare Psychiatric Hospital, tells VnExpress about his unfortunate story.

Hung was lucky enough to be saved at the time, but he suffered serious injuries, responded poorly to treatment, and was hospitalized for a year. He recently returned home, but his mental illness prevented him from working and earning an income.

His parents and sister are exhausted and feel helpless.

Hung himself is tired of the economic difficulties amid the burden of treatment costs.

Thu says Hung's parents had high expectations of him and so his illness came as a shock.

They have difficulty sleeping, live in isolation, limit communication with outsiders, and experience emotions such as wanting to die, she says.

The family burden and psychological distress also prey on the elderly parents of Bao, 34, an unmarried man who has been undergoing psychiatric treatment for seven or eight years.

Thu says he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He went to hospital for regular treatment and then returned home. The illness relapsed, and he burned down his house, leaving his parents slightly injured.

They had to live with pain, fear and worry for a long time after the fire incident, and their health gradually deteriorated as a result, she says.

According to Ministry of Health statistics, some 13 million people, or 15 percent of the population, suffer from mental disorders such as depression, epilepsy, behavioral issues, and schizophrenia, but only 20-30 percent are treated at medical facilities, with the remainder living in the community.

When they lose control of their behavior, many of them can cause harm to themselves and those around them, according to medical experts.

"Caregivers of mental patients must endure behavioral disturbances, sometimes abusive and violent behavior," Thu says.

Many parents experience depression when taking care of their children with mental illness, she says.

Hoa, 43, says her health has declined since her son was diagnosed with depression and mental illness, leaving her mentally unstable and tormented and causing bouts of crying.

She even has to take antidepressants and was advised by doctors to deal with negative emotions through exercise, meditation and mindfulness.

A family is a complex, interconnected system in which even a small change affects everyone. Having a sick member will thus have an effect on the other members.

But family members are the primary caregivers for people with mental illnesses in most developing countries.

Many global studies show that more than 90 percent of patients with chronic mental illnesses live with their families.

They care for the patient's daily needs, monitor their mental status, identify early signs of recurrence and worsening conditions, and take them for treatment.

Family members also administer medicines to the patient and provide emotional support.

Thus, they are subject to intense stress themselves, which can have an impact on relationships as well as their own health, causing hypertension, diabetes, depression, insomnia, poor appetite, and other issues.

Like in the case of Hung's and Hoa's families, doctors can examine and provide psychotherapy or medications to treat these problems.

Family therapy to help members improve communication and resolve conflicts is a less common solution.

Psychiatrists collaborate with psychologists to provide medication, counseling and other support to family members such as organizing experience sharing sessions to relieve stress.

But Thu admits that family therapy methods are extremely complicated, making it difficult to be used as a mass public model.

Furthermore, often a patient's family lacks the financial means to pay for such activities, and they are yet to be adopted at psychiatric hospitals, she says.

Psychiatric patients’ families have many needs that require attention but are overlooked, she admits.

They require supportive counseling and therapeutic interventions that can benefit both the patient and caregiver, she adds.

go to top