Watching US rap star Kanye West this week delivering his tragic soliloquy of jumbled thoughts and off-the-wall ideas with a thousand mobile phone cameras lighting the room, was a stark and very public reminder that mental illness recognises no boundaries. Race, class, age, sex – it is egalitarian in its approach, and ruthlessly systematic in its destruction of the inner peace of those who are affected by it.

What struck me more than anything was how he lashed out at his own family – his father, his wife, his mother-in-law, how he almost killed his daughter. His bipolar disorder – whilst facilitating unbounded and all-consuming love – pushing him to new levels of contempt for them too. 

For family members this is a double kick, deep in the gut. Not only are they being publicly denigrated, but they have been living privately with this behaviour for years. From the moment the gnawing suspicion that their loved-one might be ill to that nauseating, but strangely-liberating, moment when it becomes publicly known, for the family around a sufferer every moment is filled with the fear that one day they might have to ‘"give up on" their spouse, child, parent, sibling and make a call for help. And the journey to that moment is one of the toughest for any family dealing with any mental health issues.

In my family it happened in 1990. My 16-year-old brother, who had been diagnosed as being "a bit slow", was becoming increasingly agitated around the house, had taken to throwing lamps around in psychotic episodes, swearing at my mum and screaming racist abuse he’d heard at various special schools he’d attended.

On one occasion, he had dangerously grabbed the steering wheel whilst my dad was driving. My father worked six days a week at his business, I had just started a job at BBC Scotland, my brother had moved to London to work at an investment bank and my sister had gone to university in England, leaving my mother at 5ft 4" increasingly nervous of my youngest brother’s 6ft stature and unpredictability.

She tells me now how each day was punctuated by panic, fear and utter helplessness. How she waved us all off in the morning and metaphorically held her breath all day. How she practically barricaded herself and my brother in the grounds of our big, old house in one of Glasgow’s suburbs and rarely ventured out. She felt a huge responsibility to her youngest child, her baby: a visceral maternal instinct to protect him alongside a terrible fear that he might end up criminalised if his behaviour continued outside the home environment or, even worse, if he harmed someone.

Coming from an Asian background, culturally "problems" like this were dealt with within families and it's fair to say my dad would rather my brother’s issues were kept within the private sphere. As a proud, self-made man, the perceived shame of having offspring with "problems" was too much to bear. When the moment came that my brother’s behaviour became too much for my mum to take, she called the doctor who administered an injection to calm him. As two police officers lead him away, she felt the weight lift from her weary, stress-laden shoulders. Her voice breaks even now after 30 years as she remembers how meekly he went with them, saying “I’ll see you later mum.”

He didn’t live with us again until he was 32 years old. Even though my mum insists she made the right decision, for years after, my dad was bitter about what he saw as a betrayal of his youngest son. For her, the decision came from a place of deep love for her son but also from a place of extreme exhaustion and desperation to share her terrible load with the authorities. For my dad once the state got involved, we had no control over my brother’s future. My siblings and I flipped precariously between sympathy for mum’s situation and confusion that we’d come home one day and our youngest sibling was gone.

Of course, awareness about mental illness has moved on leaps and bounds in Scotland. As a society we are more open to sharing our experiences in order to create more of an understanding within the wider community. I’m quite sure what happened to my brother – who was finally diagnosed as having autism, and learning difficulties along with other mental health issues -– would not happen now. Indeed, since then there have been legislative changes and there are strong advocacy groups. Thankfully, the individual’s human rights are seen as an important factor in deciding upon treatment and their future.

Despite this, having to make that heart-wrenching decision and the repercussions it can have on families for years to come, is a sad reality that many are still coming to terms with every day whoever they are.