A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Mental Health problems affect Canadians of all ages, genders, cultures, education, and income levels. Studies indicate that in any given year, one in every 5 Canadian adults will have a mental health problem. The main cause of mental illnesses is a complex combination of genetics, biology, and physical and social environments. There is no simple answer but research has determined that the brain and the body interact in a way that produces the symptoms of mental illness. Most mental illnesses are chronic and lifelong. However, the symptoms of mental illness are treatable and can go into remission. How you treat your loved ones with a mental illness can have a big impact on their wellbeing.
Below are 10 ways to support a loved one with a mental illness:
- Educate yourself about the illness- Not understanding how a family member’s illness affects their functioning can create misconceptions and may prevent families from giving their loved ones effective help. Seek out resources and books about the disorder.
- Seek out support groups- Stigma can usually prevent families from seeking support, but it’s through support groups that you will gain more strength and knowledge. Support groups also help normalize your families’ experience.
- Work closely with the treatment team- The important players in your loved one’s treatment team are the case manager, the psychiatrist, and the therapist. Many treatment teams will allow the families into these care team meetings. Attend all meeting to educated yourself on your loved one’s current conditions. In additions, these meeting are chance to express how things are going at home, which will in turn impact treatment decisions. Ask the care team how you can help your loved one, find out what is a reasonable expectation for recovery, and how functional you can expect your loved one to be.
- Be prepared when meeting with the psychiatrist- If your loved one is complaining about mood swings, behaviors, irrational thoughts during the weeks leading up the appointments encourage them to write down their symptoms and the duration of each of these symptoms. Most often, patients will see their psychiatrist for 30 minutes every month. It is important to be as descriptive as possible during these visits to help the psychiatrist measure if the medication at the right dosage.
- Set appropriate boundaries- Although it is important to treat your loved ones with respect and allow them to establish control, it is also just as important to set limits to protect the wellbeing of others. Establish clear rules such as, “in order to live in this house, you need to seek treatment and take your medication.” Families typically do not want to step in too much and give mandatory conditions to a member who is ill, however it is important to be clear and firm with loved ones with a mental illness.
- Be fair in setting rules – When setting limits, don’t single out your loved one as the “sick one” instead establish some kind of equality that is expected of every family member in the household. For example, establishing a family rule that aggressive behavior is not tolerated in the household for anyone.
- Recognize Feelings of shame and guilt are normal- guilt and shame are typical reactions, as some families may think they did not do enough to treat the disorder sooner. It is important to remember that families do not cause mental disorder, such as schizophrenia or bipolar.
- Help yourself- If you help yourself, you’re in a much better position to help your loved one who is suffering form a mental illness. Take a few minutes out of each day for yourself to clear your mind.
- Be calm- Often times your behaviors can influence your loved one and impact their symptoms. Thus, avoid responding with anger, as you may be met with anger by your loved one. If you need a minute to unwind, take a break and return back to the conversation when you’re calm.
- Recognize the courage of your loved one- Society often views people with a physical illness such as cancer and diabetes as courageous, but rarely do we acknowledge people with a mental illness as courageous. It takes enormous bravery the lifelong symptoms of mental illness and to seek and stay in recovery.
By Dr. Reena Sandhu
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA