Supporting A Loved One With a Mental Illness
I’ve sat here for an hour trying to figure out the best way to open this post. I know what I want to say in the “meat” of the post but the opener has me stumped. So I think the easiest way to start would be with this simple statement:
“Hi, my name is Stacy and I’m mentally ill.”
This post is the first of a four-part series for family members of those with a mental illness. I was diagnosed with a mental illness when I was 15 years old which meant years of therapy, doctors and research. I understand my illnesses but recently I’ve had to learn how to cope with another’s mental illnesses.
My eldest daughter was diagnosed with her own set of mental illnesses. Being in the support role has been a sharp contrast to receiving support. Everything here is from my own experiences. I’m starting the series with list of things you can do to assist.
I want to stress that if you feel overwhelmed, please get help immediately. Large communities have Help Lines to call – don’t be afraid to call for help and advice.
- Mental Illness: Supporting A Loved One With a Mental Illness
- Mental Illness: The Role of the Caretaker
- Mental Illness: What to say AND not to say to a loved one
- Mental Illness: How My Family Helps
Knowing, loving & supporting the mental ill is one of the hardest things you will do. Whether you have a friend or are related to someone, there are few universal things that you can do for them and for yourself.
ACCEPTANCE: Accept that you can not change someone who has a mental illness.
Accept that you cannot fix them. No matter how much you listen, take care of them or try to shield them from problems, they will still be mentally ill.
The quicker you accept that your friend does not have the ability to “cure” or “overcome” their diagnosis, the easier it will be for you. No one chooses to be mentally ill, in the same way that no one chooses to have diabetes. And like diabetes – there are are only treatments, no cures.
UNDERSTAND: If you will be spending a lot of time with a person with a mental illness, take the time learn about their specific diagnosis or diagnoses.
Ask them about the diagnosis, if they are reluctant to speak about, don’t feel hurt or surprised. Many people with mental illness feel instantly “on guard” as soon as someone else brings it up. If you are going to be in a long term relationship with someone with mental illness, consider consulting your own therapist. They cannot give you specifics about the mental illness but they can help you understand the symptoms and the best way you can help.
There are several reputable sources on the internet that you can find information for their specific diagnoses as well.
ALWAYS, Let your friend or loved one know what you are doing. Express your concerns and your desire to understand better. Trust is a big issue for many people with mental illnesses.
SUPPORT: Support when you can but never at the expense of your own well-being.
Listen when they need to talk, assist when you can and be ready for your life to be occasionally interrupted by a crisis.
However, never, ever, ever let someone who is mentally ill walk all over you. Many people with mental illness are adept at getting what they need by manipulation, whether it’s emotional, physical or monetary. It does not make them bad, this is just how they have learned to cope and live.
It is important that you put down firm ground rules, especially if you are dealing with a child or significant other. Do not let guilt guide you – you will not be doing them any favors.
ENCOURAGE: Encourage them to do things for themselves.
Unless a person suffers from a severe mental illness that limits their ability to take care of themselves, it is not your job to do things for them.
Don’t fall into the trap of taking care of everything for them. Push them to make doctor’s appointment, fill prescriptions, and other important issues. You may not always be there for them, so it is important that they learn to do these things on their own two feet.
WATCH: Pay attention for cues that might indicate a change in their mental health.
When they are really suffering (you will know when this happens), you will probably need to assist them in getting help. You can ask them how you can help but don’t be surprised if they can’t answer. When a person begins to have a crisis, their minds are almost childlike (don’t say that to them though!).
During a crisis, if you are the caretaker or significant other, call their therapist or doctor for advice. If they do not have one try a help line if you have one available. Write this number down BEFORE a crisis and tell your significant other why you are writing it down.
If you are a friend, during a crisis it is best to turn to the caretaker with your concerns first. If their is an immediate threat, call 911. In any situation, never be afraid to call the police if you feel threatened or you feel that you are dealing with a suicidal person.
If you find yourself in the position of loving a person diagnosed with a mental illness, taking the time to arm yourself with knowledge is the best thing you can do. I hope you find something of use on this page.
Next week I will discuss resources and rights for the loved-ones of the mentally ill.DISCLAIMER: This is a personal blog. This blog contains opinions and experiences. We are not doctors. If you feel you need help, please seek a professional. Please view our complete Disclaimer.
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