Families Coping with Mental Illness: Stories from the US and Japan

By Yuko Kawanishi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Why Did the Illness Strike?
Families Look for Meaning

I’m just amazed that people who have Ph.D.s are so ignorant
about mental illness. Unless it’s touched somebody a lot, it’s not
something that people can understand. — An American sibling.

Most families know little if anything about mental illness until it hits a loved one. The terminology, system, and body of knowledge of psychiatry are puzzling and confusing. While they go through many kinds of emotional turmoil over the symptoms, diagnosis, and prognosis, family members also struggle in their own way to objectively understand the disease. Eventually, families make what at first seemed like a monstrosity into a manageable entity that it is possible for them to understand in their own way. Their grasp of the sick family member’s condition may not be necessarily accurate in scientific terms. But even in the midst of psychological confusion, they observe, think, interpret, and construct their own explanations in order to better understand the new reality.

One of the key questions family members ask is why the particular family member was struck by the illness. Coming to some plausible explanation greatly helps them adjust to this otherwise too stressful and disturbing reality. It is essential for human beings to make sense out of a chaotic world. The causal attribution process plays a major role in the process of cognitive adjustment, which eventually helps family members adjust to the emotional aspect as well. It is a process that involves family members

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