When you feel abandoned because of mental illness

A guest post by Susan Black Allen

I wasn’t surprised to hear that Sinead O’Connor felt abandoned by her friends and family.
Us folks who struggle with mental illness can be very hard to love. We can be moody,
melancholic, anxious, unpredictable, needy, demanding -- and some of us are even
occasionally psychotic and/or suicidal.

Sometimes we can’t sleep for days. Other times all we do is sleep. Sometimes we shut
down and you can’t get us to talk. Other times, we are manic and we can’t shut up.
Sometimes we want your help, but won’t take it when it’s offered. Other times, we take
it, but are unable to follow through and feel guilty for letting you, and ourselves, down.
At our worse, we ride an out-of- control rollercoaster -- and like it or not, we drag our
friends and family along for the ride. With all the ups and downs and twists and turns,
it’s not surprisingly that some of our loved ones bail when they get the chance. I can’t
really blame them and neither should you. Rollercoasters aren’t for everybody.

My father hates funerals. He also hates visiting hospitals and avoids both whenever he
possibly can. My dad is a warm, intelligent and sensitive (possibly too sensitive) kind of
guy. But put him in these kinds of situations and his blood pressure and anxiety spikes
and his fight or flight response kicks in. Need someone to fix your flat tire or plow your
yard, dad is your guy. Need someone to comfort the dying or the bereaved, better to have
dad make a pot of chili or go get everyone coffee.

While working as a therapist intern, I ran support groups at a hospice. Time and time
again, group members would talk about how certain friends and family members had
simply disappeared or drifted away after their loved one had died. Obviously, this was
very hurtful. But on the flip side, there were always folks who surprised them: an old
friend who had heard about their loss and resurfaced to offer truly meaningful support.
Or the new support group friend, who despite their own grief, could connect in powerful

Whether we have mental health issues or not, there are always going to be people who
are going to let us down. I have a Master’s degree in counseling and have been trained to
help individuals in psychological crises like Sinead O’Connor. And despite my best efforts,
sometime I let them down. Asking someone untrained to swim out to try to save
someone drowning never makes sense.

If you feel abandoned by friends and family, consider cutting them some slack. They
may not get your mental health challenges. They may have their own issues. They may
be just as confused and overwhelmed as you are. Cut them some slack and cut yourself
some, too. This mental health stuff is so tough. But make sure to look for those who
might surprise you. Comfort, support and kindness are out there and often show up in
unexpected places.

Sinead, there’s a community out there that cares. Please know that we are listening and
hope you get the help you so desperately need.


About the Author: Susan Black Allen is a therapist, writer, and someone who has struggled with depression on and off since her teens (Seasonal Affective Disorder, postpartum depression, garden variety depression, etc.). She is currently working as a Sponsorship Coordinator at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, until her California counseling license is official. Susan has an amazing 15-year-old daughter Emmy and has been married to her husband Bruce who has made her laugh for nearly twenty years. She and her family live in sunny San Diego where they moved two years ago after deciding Boston’s winters are just too long.  She misses New England ice cream and her friends and family back East, but you couldn’t pay her to go back!