A Child's Mental Illness Affects the Whole Family
> 10/23/2006 12:11:20 PM

In a powerful story from this weekend's New York Times, writer Pam Belluck tells the story of the Abaspour family. The youngest of the family's two daughters, Haley, 10, has been afflicted with a wide range of mental health issues that include auditory and visual hallucinations, excessive anxiety, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Haley has also been diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome. The devastating combination has made life for Haley, who attends school and participates in many other kid activities, very difficult. Belluck does an excellent job helping us better understand what Haley faces on a daily basis, but the real success of her article is in illustrating how mental illness, particularly that of a child, can affect the lives of an entire family.

Haley's illness has dramatically changed her life, but it has also had a profound effect on the lives of each of her family members, who themselves now deal with mental health problems brought on by the anxiety and stress of their lives together. Haley's sister, Megan, 13, has often felt like a second mother, constantly watching out for her sister and catering to her needs, even to the exclusion of her own. When, after arguing with her parents, Megan tied a t-shirt around her neck in a suicidal gesture she also began to see a professional therapist and has more recently come to terms with her own mental health problems. Like Megan, both Haley's parents, Christine and Bejan, have struggled with mental illness in the form of anxiety disorders and insomnia.

In a family like the Abaspour's where one member is sick, often they can come to dominate family dynamics. Traditional family problems disappear when each family member must concentrate on the needs of a sick child. But for each family member, this illness can have major effects, and especially for other children who may not be a mature as their parents or extended family members, this can be a serious concern.

The New York Times truly delves into the Abaspours' lives, also offering a video presentation of Ms. Belluck's article on their website. While it is compelling to hear about the family's struggles, they certainly wouldn't want our pity. Instead Ms. Belluck weaves this story to show us how a sick child can change the nature of each family member's life. Each of them is affected by the stigma that has been attached to the mental illnesses that they battle. Greater acceptance and perhaps more efficient health care funding would both be a boon to the Abaspours. But either way, they will continue to love and support one another, and hope that treatment will help begin to ease Haley's problems.

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