Helping Someone with a Mental Illness
Caring for someone you love who is sick or disabled is never easy. When the illness
affects your loved one's state of mind, the demands placed on you can be especially
Mental illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar or anxiety disorders
are biological in nature. This means that they directly affect brain function. This
makes it difficult or impossible for the person to think, reason, feel, or relate
to others in a predictable, normal way. This can strain relationships with family
and friends. Efforts to help may be met with indifference, anger, or suspicion.
Nature, not nurture
Mental disorders are a leading cause of disability. They often strike people during
the teen years and young adulthood. If your loved one has been diagnosed, it helps
to know that most mental illnesses can be treated well. Medicine, counseling, and
other services reduce symptoms and help improve the quality of life for most people
with mental illness.
As a person starts treatment and recovery, the support of family and friends is vital.
Mental illness is a medical disorder. It is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness.
Learn as much as you can about your loved one's disorder. Try to understand the challenges
he or she faces. Learn about the recommended treatment and how to get it. Remember
that you can't be a therapist for your loved one. Professional help is key for the
person to get better. Your loved one may need your help to accept that.
Support medicine use, but be prepared for resistance. Drug treatments for mental disorders
have greatly improved. But side effects remain a problem for some people. Many people
refuse medicine because they don't think they are ill. Be respectful but persistent
in urging your loved one to take prescribed medicine. Many caregivers require medicine
to be taken as a condition for housing their loved one. Likewise, help your loved
one keep therapy and medical appointments. Also, give feedback to healthcare providers
who may need to adjust medicines.
Remember that the illness affects attitudes and beliefs. When a person says, "I am
a total failure" or "I'll never feel better," remind your loved one that these feelings
are a result of the illness. In cases where a person totally loses touch with reality, don't
argue. Trying to talk the person out of delusions won't help. Proper treatment can
restore realistic thinking. In the meantime, stay supportive and positive. But set
limits and rules, especially if the person lives with you.
If your loved one lashes out or becomes agitated, stay calm and quiet. Try to find
out what the problem is in a nonthreatening way. If a situation becomes dangerous,
call someone who can help, and get yourself to safety. Always take any threats of
violence or suicide seriously.
Create a support system
Using all available resources will make it easier to deal with the unpredictability
of the illness. For example, keep a list of phone numbers of therapists, healthcare
providers, family members, and friends who can help. Also include the number of a
suicide crisis line, substance abuse center, or mental health hospital in case of
a crisis. This will help you and your loved one know that there is a safety net of
people and resources available at all times. It will also keep the burden of care
from resting completely on your shoulders.
Find support for yourself. It is important for you to live your own life as much as
possible and take time for yourself and your interests. Your needs are important.
It also helps to seek support from others in the same situation.