Do you have a family member who is struggling with mental illness? With 25% of Americans being diagnosed with a mental disorder each year, according to NIMH, the chances are very high that you do. I don’t usually blog about severe mental illness, but I’m branching out a little in support of APA’s “Mental Health Month Blog Party” and because the subject really resonates with me on a personal level. I have a close relative who was diagnosed almost a decade ago with Bipolar Disorder (or variously, Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder).
It has been quite a roller coaster ride with this relative, looping and zooming through her hallucinations, delusions, suicidal thinking, erratic and impulsive behavior, disorganized thoughts, and treatment noncompliance (e.g., not taking meds, not attending therapy sessions, forgetting appointments). She has spent half of the last 4 years of her life in various mental institutions and is now living on the streets, despite having plenty of resources and support from family and friends. I don't really know what it's like for her, but the outlook is quite bleak and disheartening for those of us who love her and are watching her transformation. When a person who experiences psychosis refuses to get help, it can be painful and even harmful to family and friends. Even when a loved one cannot or will not take care of themselves, you can!
- Educate yourself. Find out more about the condition your loved one is struggling to manage so that you can navigate your relationship better.
- Ask questions of your loved one. Try to understand how your loved one’s life has been affected by the condition. Ask how you can be helpful to him/her.
- Avoid forcing your opinions or agenda on your loved one. Trying to convince them of something they don’t understand or believe in may cause undue hostility and conflict. In some cases, you may have to be more assertive or controlling, but allow your loved one to retain some level of control and independence as much as possible.
- Get support. Check out local support groups that offer resources about the specific disorder your loved one has. Attending meetings may give you an opportunity to share your story, get a different perspective, or learn more about relevant resources.
- Take care of yourself. Often there is a tendency to ignore your feelings or neglect your needs. Instead, find a therapist, exercise, talk to your friends - do something. Just make sure to get out of the box mental illness can sometimes use to entrap you.
People love the idea of being physically healthy - joining gyms, hiring trainers, running marathons, etc., but, because mental illness is the humongous elephant in the room, mental health is extremely neglected. This is problematic, especially in light of the concept of mind-body connection. If you’re not taking care of your mind, you’re limiting the potential of your body. If you’re not taking care of your body; you’re limiting the potential of your mind.
So, remember to love yourself as much as you love your familly or friend. Making sure you’re in the best shape mentally will help you be better prepared to help your loved one through the ins and outs of mental illness.