Some reflections on Mental Health Day by Mary E. Latela October 10, 2015
Today is World Mental Health Day. We hear the term “mental illness” every time a terrible crime is committed and we cannot logically explain it. However, degrees of illness exist, and most people so afflicted work, keep a family together, take care of the home, etc.
In the period between the 1950s and the late 20th century, mental illness was thought to be a disorder of an individual patient. A term popped up, namely, the “identified patient” – this person was either consciously or unconsciously considered to be the source of the family problems so that everyone else could blame that person for their problems. No one else had to do the hard work of healing, learning new ways to act, and how to resist unhealthy urges.
It’s similar to scapegoating, where one person is the object of everyone else’s wrath. If you blame the youngest child as the cause of all the problems of the family, she will know this, and most likely will try to stay quiet, in order not to be blamed. It’s easy to blame the youngest child, particularly if his arrival was not really planned, and because he is not at all to blame for the misery that was already part of the family before his birth.
In the second half of the 20th century, academic science, history, sociology, and family health, it became common for systems theory to be used to describe quite a few group problems. Some mothers would pretend to be having a heart attack and blame one child for causing fear and anger. It’s an act, and it is vicious, but it temporarily stops the tension because that child will hold on to all the guilt and shame, and may feel responsibility if something terrible happens to the parent. The other children may tease or bully this identified patient.
If you were the identified patient in your family of origin, you know this. And you may have developed serious self-esteem problems, even severe depression and anxiety.
Truly addressing the gifts and challenges of each member of a family would mean that: 1. responsibility would be shared; 2. one person would not be blamed for every slip; 3. the beginning of shared family spirit might take root.