I’ve had a long history of mental illness without knowing that I had it. I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, ADHD and OCPD last year, at the young age of 42. While it is very difficult at times, especially when you are young, being told the truth is better than living in ignorance.
Here are ten tips on how to help a family member with mental illness:
1 — Educate yourself about the subject. Reading books and surfing the Internet is a great way to familiarize yourself with different types of mental illnesses, medications used to treat these conditions, and ways your loved one may act under certain diagnoses.
2 — Offer support without trying too hard. Sometimes people experiencing mental illness become isolated from their friends or family because they feel ashamed or embarrassed, so the last thing they need is someone constantly calling them to ask how they are feeling.
3 — Encourage your loved one to seek help. If you have a family member who cares about their health and well-being but just doesn’t think they can do it on their own, let them know there is always a way out no matter what roadblocks come up. Of course, this should be encouraged with caution; people living with mental illness already feel stigmatized enough by society without someone telling them that seeking professional help makes them weak.
4 — Don’t take responsibility for your loved one’s actions. We all like to blame ourselves for things we could have done differently when something bad happens, but when it comes to mental illness, you have to let go of that feeling. There are just some things out of your control.
5 — Know the legal tools at your disposal. If someone in your family is suffering from a mental illness, you should know how to help them get the assistance they need without compromising their civil liberties.
For example, if a loved one with depression or schizophrenia stops taking their medication and goes into a state of mind where they believe they don’t need it anymore, getting them back on track can be difficult.
6 — Avoid falling into guilt traps. Sometimes people living with mental illness will try to push for guilt or pity because they think this is all someone can offer them. Be conscious of the types of words and phrases you use when having a conversation with your loved ones so that they don’t get the wrong idea about why you are helping them.
7 — Acknowledge your loved one’s good qualities. When someone is suffering from chronic depression or anxiety, they tend to doubt everything good about themselves, including their worth as a person and their abilities in life. If you really want to help this person, try emphasizing what they do well instead of focusing on all the bad things happening to them.
8 — Know how and when to remove yourself from a harmful situation. There may be times where someone close to you needs more care than you can give them, whether financially, emotionally, or physically. If you feel like your relationship is getting to the point where it’s doing more harm than good for either party involved, then this may be a sign that it’s time to step back.
9 — Take care of yourself too. Make sure to take some time out for yourself every now and again so you can keep your perspective in check and recharge. You are not their therapist, but you are an important member of their support system.
10 — Remember that recovery takes time. It takes years before someone living with mental illness will completely feel like themselves again, but just because they aren’t 100% doesn’t mean they’re not trying their hardest to get there.
Pack A Good Lunch, It’s A Long Trip
Encourage your loved one to seek help. If you have a family member who cares about their health and well-being but just doesn’t think they can do it on their own, let them know there is always a way out no matter what roadblocks come up. Of course, this should be encouraged with caution; people living with mental illness already feel stigmatized enough by society without someone telling them that seeking professional help makes them weak. The road to recovery or just surviving is a long journey, best of luck to you and them.