Siblings of those who are suffering from psychoses or bipolar disorders are found in such family groups rather rarely and are currently regarded even less than children. In a study, it could be shown that siblings feel, in part, quite substantially involved, both within the sense of their own burden, as well as within the sense of taking over and/or delegating responsibilities. In family discussions, siblings frequently have an important and relieving function.
The relationship to a sister or brother who is ill is experienced by the majority as being close and, as a result of the illness, as being even closer. The following feelings are characteristic: Concern, shame, mental overload, efforts to attain normalisation, particular obligations as a person of trust and responsibility for initiating a therapy. The quality of the relationship before the outbreak of a psychosis here is decisive for the possibilities of contact during the crisis.
The majority of siblings are clearly very disappointed with psychiatry. The burden is not seen, the help is rejected and the siblings are considered merely as troublesome appendages. Also in the family groups, siblings are not really taken into consideration. Nevertheless, almost all of them express fears of becoming insane themselves and of blaming themselves, less within the sense of a causal responsibility, but instead within the sense of developing survivor guilt. One's own successes are embarrassing and the pressure to represent a perfect family becomes oversized. Organizing the sibling relationship on an equal footing is laborious and often only possible after receiving relief through professional services. At the same time, most speak not only of a particular burden, but also of a challenge which has had a positive effect on their own life.
Expieriences of a sister
"Your brother and we must discuss something with you."With these words, my parents came to me and my 12-year-old sister one evening, I was 17. My brother was 19. And then we went out to have dinner, so that we would be on neutral ground. My parents had separated when I was five; we three children lived with our mother. During this evening they then told us that my brother had admitted himself in a psychiatric hospital because he was suffering from delusions. In the first moment, I was naturally shocked, but also relieved that my brother wanted to be helped.
And then it happened: He went into the psychiatric clinic. My mother visited him every day and I only came along once, it was awful. I was hardly able to recognise my brother again. After that, I didn't want to come along any more; I simply suppressed the matter for the most part. Sometimes I had a rather guilty conscience because of that, I considered myself to be selfish because I didn't visit him any more merely since I felt badly there. In the meantime, I knew more about this illness and also that there are medicines available for treating it and then I thought, "OK, this is an awful phase now, but my brother is in hospital, is receiving medicines and is being helped." I compared it with a fracture of the leg - only that it was in the brain. With a fracture of the leg, the leg is put in plaster, one must take it easy and then perhaps go to physiotherapy, but after that you can run around again normally.
With this prospect, that everything would again be as it was earlier, I could handle the whole situation well. Today I know better. My brother was discharged from the psychiatric clinic and was no longer how he had been in the past. He had two relapses. Now, the medications have been adjusted very well, he works in a workshop for psychiatric patients and I am satisfied with the results if he is doing well and he feels well. It will simply no longer be as it was earlier and he will no longer be as he was earlier. As a result of the medicines, my brother has become rather fat, perhaps also because of boredom and because he likes to eat. His appearance is frequently neglected and he can sometimes be somewhat obtrusive, which is awkward for me in front of other people. A good friend once said that one's own brother should not be embarrassing for one's self. Since then, I simply tell the people beforehand that my brother had a psychosis and that was the reason he is as he is. That way, I find it easier to handle his idiosyncrasies if I can say that he can't help it, and then it is no longer so embarrassing for me.
Despite all of this, I often have a guilty conscience because it is embarrassing for me that I cannot include my brother in my life as I include my sister, I can't even take him along to a party and others are then surprised to hear that I even have a brother and then say to me, "Oh, you also have a brother, I didn't know that." After such incidents, I then give him a ring and ask how he is doing. Then I feel better and my guilty conscience is alleviated.