Research suggests that one of the most important aspects of treatment of mental illness is Family Support.
Family support can be the difference between a person seeking help with a professional and suffering in silence.
There is a large body of evidence that shows that when a person knows they can count on their family member for support during a mental illness episode, not only are they more likely to seek help, but they believe the help is worth it, and treatment is much more effective.
How to support your family member that has been diagnosed with a mental illness is not always clear and can be confusing, especially when muddled with the emotion.
Below are some ways you can support your family member with mental illness.
You need to know what to expect regarding symptoms and severity to be able to best help your family member and yourself.
Read up on the diagnosis. Speak with the family member’s treatment team and try to be a part of the treatment process as much as you can.
When you know what to expect, you can prepare and take away some of the anxiety, blame, and shame that comes with a lack of preparation and education.
Part of education is having realistic expectations. Someone living with depression will not feel or look depressed all the time, they have good days. That doesn’t mean because they had a good day that they are choosing to feel depressed.
It’s important to set the expectation that some days will be good, some will be bad, and some will be downright ugly.
Education will help you be grateful for the good days, prepare for the bad days, and know what to do when things become overwhelming.
Give Your Family Member Empathy and Respect
Remember that your family member’s mental health diagnosis is just one part of who they are, not their entire identity.
Certain mental illness can be very scary, almost as if trapped or attacked by your own mind. Can you imagine what that would be like? Can you imagine how you might react or behave if this were the case for yourself?
How would you want others to treat you?
This is how you create empathy within yourself. Also, show them respect.
Remember that if your family member is an adult, they are allowed to make decisions about their own care. Your family members have the right to ask for medication that does not have the side effects their current one has. They have the right to ask for a doctor that they feel listens to them and respects them.
Boundaries are an important part of respect.
As an example, a person living with a severe mental illness that causes physical aggression when unmedicated has the right to ask for different medications that don’t cause issues with brain fog; however, they do not have the right to demonstrate physical aggression toward others.
Additionally, you have the right to keep yourself safe and do not have to stick around.
A quick search on Amazon reveals several books written to assist the family member of the person diagnosed with mental illness.
Family therapy could be another consideration as an additional resource.
More on that later. Seek guidance from your insurance company to book a family therapist.
Support Your Own Mental Health
You may have heard the saying, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” While it may feel oversimplified or cliché, it’s true.
It is not advisable for any person to focus all their attention on someone else. You have to be able to take care of your own needs. Many caregivers experience what some call “caregiver fatigue.” This condition can lead to anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, lack of appetite, resentment, irritability, to name a few.
Having some time away to engage in self-care is not selfish. In fact, it is necessary.
Stay Calm and Have Hope
In times when you may want to respond angrily to your family member, take a moment to yourself to breathe. Give yourself the space you need to allow calm and respond instead with patience to the person. Responding angrily may feel good to some, but it is short lived and causes more issues.
You can express anger without losing your cool.
Remind your family member, and yourself, that with consistent treatment, the person can lead a satisfactory, fulfilling life. There is hope.
The following are ways that are not supportive, or helpful, to a family member with mental illness.
This is a term created to describe how the use of positive sayings or tropes like, “Good vibes only” to encourage a person who is having a real mental health crisis, can be disparaging and invalidate a person’s experiences.
“Have you tried not being depressed?” While that statement sounds ridiculous, it is no different than statements like:
- “You should just smile more.”
- “You have nothing to be depressed about!”
- “You were just smiling and laughing yesterday. You obviously want to be depressed.”
These statements are condescending, passive aggressive, and are not helpful to anyone.
Statements like these do not encourage the person to seek treatment but instead can instill the belief that how they feel is not taken seriously by others.
Statements that are helpful to someone experiencing mental health issues include:
- “You seem like you’re having a rough time. Can I help?”
- “No pressure. I’m here for you.”
- “I want you to remember you are loved. Your depression is lying to you.”
Problem Talk/ Blame Game
Let go of the belief that the family member living with mental illness is the “problem.”
Avoid blaming the person for their own mental illness, blaming yourself for the person’s mental illness, or assigning blame at all.
When a person is diagnosed with a medical condition such as Diabetes or Cancer, typically people don’t assign blame to anyone; however, mental health conditions are not afforded that same courtesy.
Complex mental health disorders are not caused by a person or a single event. They are caused by a series of complex factors, including genetics and/ or biology, in addition to several other things.
Shame or guilt are normal feelings to have, however, and caregivers should seek help with these emotions via outpatient therapy.
It’s important not to think of your loved one as “the sick one.” Instead, equality can be established by setting expectations for everyone.
This could be that everyone agrees physical and verbal aggression are unacceptable. Or everyone is to be treated with respect and dignity no matter the circumstance.
These were just a few things to consider when caring for a family member with a mental illness.
Many other considerations can be found in the sources used for this blog post and other resources found on the internet and certain books.
If you believe someone you love is at risk of harming themselves, others, or unable to care for themselves, contact your local mental health authority for guidance on how to assist your loved one in getting treatment.
The following resources may help you in supporting your family member:
We Are Here For You 24/7
At Western Tidewater Community Services Board, we know that when someone you care about is struggling, things can seem hopeless.
But we want you to stay positive and keep trying to help! You are not alone in this.
We can provide you the resources your loved one needs today – but you’re the one who can give them the support they need to get started.
We offer 24/7 crisis services, so no matter the day or time, we’re ready to help.
Let’s move forward, together. Get started today.