How Can Siblings Support Adolescents In their Mental Health Journey?

clock 5 Min Read

Brencia Daphne

August 23, 2021

Developmental and family scholars have repeatedly undervalued the importance of the family dynamic that arises from sibling companionship and the emotional nature of their positive or negative exchanges. While parent-child relationships are viewed as a key influence in the development and mental health of a child, siblings can also play a very important role in an adolescent's life.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, siblings spend a considerable amount of time together, which can have an impact on both their development and individuality. Siblings spend more time together, as they grow and mature together. In recent times, researchers have made significant progress in understanding the importance of the relationship between siblings.

Siblings play an important role in adjustment from the beginning of childhood, especially matters concerning social understanding and support. For example, impressions of closeness to a sibling and confiding in a sibling can help one deal with the absence of other core family members. Insufficient social aid from siblings during childhood can transform into tendencies of being unapproachable or nonexistent with a partner, adult child, or other intimate family members in later life.

Numerous other factors such as gender constellation, age spacing, and biological relatedness can also influence sibling relationships. Take gender’s impact on sibling closeness, for instance. Sister dyads tend to have great personal relationships, but there is a slight difference in opinion on which combination of siblings has better relationships — sister-brother or brother dyads. This may stem from the general belief that men are less inclined than women to disclose their emotions toward siblings. Nevertheless, it must be considered that men hold beliefs of value and gratitude just as deeply as women do.

This article sheds light on the various ways a sibling can be the biggest pillar of support to a person suffering from a mental disorder. It focuses on the importance of open dialogue, setting boundaries, trying to understand the changing moods or erratic behaviour without getting frustrated, letting go of expectations, accepting, and learning how to take care of oneself while caring for someone who is in need.

How To Identify Mental Health Concerns In Adolescents?

Identifying mental health concerns in adolescents can be tricky. They go through various mental, physical, and emotional changes as they progress through development and growth. They are still in the process of learning, adapting, and coping with their surroundings. Rather than interpreting what qualifies as healthy behaviour, it may be simpler to feature behaviours that contradict reasonable adolescent mental health.

For example:

  • Missing school days.
  • Poor academic performance.
  • Avoiding friends or having a lack of social life.
  • Bouncing between moods of no energy or hyperactivity.
  • Actions of self-harm — cutting, biting, pulling hair, burning, smoking, or taking drugs.
  • Engaging in risky behaviour — car races, unsafe sex, or other dangerous thrill-seeking activities.

With further increases in mental health concerns, adolescents may depict signs of fear. There are bound to be physical indications of anxiety-like nervousness, sweating, or rapid heartbeat showing signs of anxiety disorder. Symptoms may also include:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Distorted perception and thoughts.
  • Sudden outbursts of emotions.
  • Sadness.
  • Unusual behaviour like distress, violence, isolation, etc.

(Please Note: Problems related to lack of concentration, losing interest easily, hard to follow directions, need for constant movement, frustration, and impulsive behaviour can be signs of ADHD.)

How Can Siblings Help With Adolescents’ Mental Health Journey?

Siblings can not only identify the change and behaviour patterns in adolescents but can also help them overcome them.

Siblings of individuals with a mental health issue will positively impact their brother’s or sister’s recovery. It will be helpful for siblings and adolescents to have an open dialogue about it. They need to know about the disorder, as well as about the mental health of the individual. This will aid them in being more cooperative and not frustrated with their brother/sister's behaviour and mood.

Researchers have found that siblings have proven to be of utmost help and support, especially in cases where the individual has little to no social interactions, and parental support is not enough. Siblings can help their brother/sister with reintegration into social environments by providing emotional and sensible support, in addition to opportunities for socialization.

The siblings must keep a check on their brother/sister. Try not to let them isolate themselves. Give them company, whenever possible and needed, while setting up healthy boundaries as per one’s comfort level. It is important to give them a safe space in addition to taking care of their mental health.

What To Do If Siblings Feel Overwhelmed?

It is instrumental to understand that siblings can feel overwhelmed, due to the general environment of the family, resulting from one child having a disorder. They can feel neglected, and frustrated. However, if they are understood and made to understand how they can be of help, they will willingly take these responsibilities without feelings of resentment. Being on a mental health journey with your brother/sister often puts the sibling in a journey of adaptation and understanding, as they unlock parts of themselves.

Sometimes one child’s problems require the other kids in the family to act older than their age. In certain cases, they might even have to help their parents. However, they’ll learn to adapt and deal with this, which adds another unique dimension to their relationship. This can be done by showing them different ways in which they can show support towards their siblings.

Parents can establish certain situations wherein siblings have to help each other out. This way, they will learn the importance of emotional support. Parents can also assign their children responsibilities by which they can understand their significance in the lives of their siblings.

How Can Siblings Be More Supportive?

For many people that suffer from psychological disorders, their siblings are key individuals in their lives. Siblings of people with mental disorders usually act as secondary caregivers. Some siblings perceive their role as being instrumental in their brother/sister’s well-being and recovery. They are a valuable resource for their brother/sister in various recovery activities that can be therapeutic. These therapeutic activities might be as simple as family gatherings, an art/dance/yoga class, or a workshop. Siblings can also encourage each other to take up therapy by booking a session for them. It can be given as a gift, from one sibling to another. A gift is usually not denied, so they might be encouraged to continue going for therapy if they find the first session to be helpful.

Here, it is also important to note that siblings need to look after their mental health as well. They can also try their hand at a few self-care activities such as meditation, art or play therapy, gratitude journaling, etc.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that they both (siblings, as well as, the person with the disorder) are aware of the disorder and other daily mental health concerns — such as examination/work stress, peer pressure, challenges during puberty, and much more. It can be helpful for them to join support groups that provide the right emotional support and awareness.

In conclusion, setting off on a mental health journey is hard and challenging. A support system makes this journey a little easier as your sibling takes on the role of a confidant, an emergency contact, as well as someone who offers compassion when required most.

Seek Support Now