By Jamil Jivani, April 12, 2021
As more parts of the country head back into various states of lockdown, Canadians are learning a tough lesson in feeling powerless. It’s a familiar lesson for those who grew up in a family afflicted by mental health issues. There’s only so much you can do as you watch your loved ones drown in despair. No matter how much you want to help or how hard you try, it often seems like it’s never enough.
Growing up, it was obvious to me that my family was nothing like the families I saw on television in the 1990s. But my parents were in no place for self-reflection. I had an absentee father who was wrestling with the trauma of being born an orphan and a single mother who was overwhelmed by the burdens of caring for three kids.
My youngest sister was eventually hospitalized with anorexia as a teenager, which caused us to finally face reality: everything was not OK.
Coming of age in this family environment, I was desperate to help. I yearned for the right words at the right times. I hoped a good deed might change my family’s fortunes. Or I could just love them. Maybe I just needed to love them enough.
After years of effort, I had to accept that another person’s mental health is out of my hands. I can’t help. No matter how much I want to.
The lessons of one’s childhood can be easily forgotten. Credentials and accomplishments mislead us into thinking we can become immune to the problems of our past. I thought I could be smart or successful enough to shield a family of my own from the destabilizing effects of mental health issues.
Then a global pandemic hit me and everyone I care about. And I am reminded again of just how powerless we are when stress, anxiety and depression come for our loved ones. Once again, I lack the words or good deeds to turn things around. My love isn’t enough.
During the pandemic, a lot more of us are in the heartbreaking position of seeing our families afflicted by mental health issues. More than half of Canadians (54 per cent) say their mental health has suffered over the past year, according to a recent poll conducted by KPMG.