Book Review: “The Skipping Stone: The Rippling Effect of Mental Illness in the Family”

In “The Skipping Stone: The Rippling Effect of Mental Illness in the Family,” Mona Wasow supports wholeheartedly NAMI Westside’s Family to Family groups with a strong theme to impart information to families about mental illnesses. By creating rippling effects on the entire family, Mental Illness is like a Skipping Stone.

Wasow’s book demonstrates rippling effects through examples, case studies and interviews with Children of parents with mental illness, Siblings, Spouses, the Grandparents and extended families of those with severe mental illness like affective disorder and schizophrenia. The author reinforces the need for knowledge to be given to all of these groups who desired it from professionals.

She states that we need each other. She emphasizes that the goal for the families needs to be ongoing loyalty and NEVER abandonment of the ill relative.

The significant factors for a good outcome for a brain disordered person are high intelligence, outside interests and having significant adults in your life. Six risk factors point out the descent into mental illness, none of which is stress.

For CHILDREN with a mentally ill parent, the invulnerable child with a stable and substitute parent appears to do better. Coping skills and preventive targets impart means of survival for the child along with a positive school environment. The age of the child factors into how the child reacts. Collaboration among health centers, agencies and faith based groups is needed.

For the SIBLING there is a desire to be heard, a need for information and genetic fears that lurk. The quote follows expressing how a sibling felt. “I have the right to succeed without feeling guilty. I have the right to not be perfect, thus to feel anger, sorrow when I see the suffering/damage experienced by my family.” A list of 60 points to remember for the sibling is given. For healing, the suggestion to write your own story helps the sibling.

For SPOUSES, they related how the “casseroles roll in when your spouse has a disease like cancer and is in the hospital, but not with mental illness.” Supporting the well spouse helps everyone.

With GRANDPARENTS, the theme of guilt prevails and they feel less stable. Again the increased knowledge helped.

Professionals over and over are blamed for not giving information, retaining confidentiality and secrecy which leaves all members of the families without knowledge. A list of suggestions to give to professionals is on page 75.

Even with knowledge, however, watching someone suffer or not be cured, the pain and agony is not eliminated. Grieving for an ongoing condition is difficult because you have lost the person he or she was. As one parent said “I grieve because my son seemed to have no place in a world too ignorant and weak to cure him and perhaps too hostile to care.” Expectations become more realistic, shame is lessened and fear is somewhat alleviated. Wasow takes us through the myths of grief.

Accepting the legitimacy of your feelings –saying it out loud -is merciful to you and knowing that you do not become so desperate to act the thoughts out. The book shares coping capacities- positive thinking is key to keep dark thoughts at bay– deals with anger and guilt. Group sharing allows the person to realize this is part of the normal process.

For yourself, signs are listed to indicate when you need to consult professional help. Wasow shares the thought – “Nobody upsets you, You upset yourself.”

Leaving with the thought that all of the relatives of SMI wanted society to better understand their relative. The various professionals wanted to do their best most of the time but were also hampered by laws and funding.

This research was based in the Midwest with white families. Wasow is a clinical worker at the University of Wisconsin where she chairs the concentration in mental illness and has a son with the brain disorder. Reviewing the book rekindled many memories for me having lost one son to suicide, having a daughter with multiple problems and a well son. I would recommend this book highly to anyone. Mary Kate D Ziesmer

The Skipping Stone: The Rippling Effect of Mental Illness in the Family