Sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, anger, fearfulness, confusion: If you love someone with a mental health disorder you have likely felt one (or all) of these emotions at one time or another.
It’s completely normal to feel a wide range of emotions when a loved one is affected by mental illness. Depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), bipolar disorder, panic disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (as examples) affect a person’s behavior, thoughts, and moods. Depending on the type of disorder each of these factors can vary wildly.
It’s important to understand that you are not alone. Millions of Americans experience a gamut of issues and emotions that come with loving someone with a mental disorder. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, grandparents, aunts, uncles, spouses, and significant others all over the nation live with it daily. In fact, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), at least 8.4 million Americans provide care to an adult with emotional or mental illness. And, these caregivers spend an average of 32 hours per week providing care without being paid.
Although loving someone with a mental health disorder can be demanding of your time and emotions, there is help…and hope. At Futures Recovery Healthcare we have a specific program dedicated to mental health treatment, offering support for both your loved one, you, and the entire family.
How to Help a Loved One With a Mental Health Disorder
One of the most common and shared feelings among those who have a loved one with a mental health disorder is helplessness. There are actually several things you can do as a loving and supportive family member. One of the first and best steps you can take is to become educated and aware of the symptoms of mental disorders.
- Feeling excessively sad and/or withdrawn for upwards of two weeks
- Attempting serious self-harm (including having thoughts of suicide or attempting suicide)
- Engaging in dangerous and risky behavior (that could hurt themself or others)
- Participating in excessive alcohol and/or drug use
- Changing moods drastically and/or erratically
- Seeing, hearing, or believing things are present or are happening that are not real
- Experiencing sudden, overwhelming fear for no apparent reason (can be accompanied by a racing heart or difficulty breathing)
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Showing an inability to concentrate
- Exhibiting significant weight loss or gain
If your loved one is demonstrating any of the behaviors above, they likely have a mental health disorder that could benefit from professional treatment.
The next list offers insights into additional steps that family members and beloved friends can take to help their loved one after identifying symptoms of mental illness:
- Begin a Conversation
Rather than confronting a loved one you suspect of having a mental disorder, try a more relaxed approach. Instead of, “I think you have mental issues,” or “You’re crazy,” try more exploratory statements such as, “It worries me to hear you talking like this. Let’s talk to someone about it,” or “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been acting like yourself lately. Is something going on?”
- Express Empathy
Whether your loved one is receptive to a conversation about receiving help, or becomes agitated, practicing empathy and validation can be helpful. Saying statements like, “You need to try harder,” or “You need to practice better restraint of your emotions,” can not only trigger a negative reaction, it may push the person to become suicidal or homicidal (depending on the mental disorder they have). Instead, saying things like, “I’m sorry you are hurting,” or, “I understand you are having a hard time right now,” help your loved one to know that they are seen, heard, and allow them the freedom of their feelings.
- Research Treatment Options
It’s important to employ the preceding steps prior to sharing what you have learned about treatment options. If you immediately provide a list of mental health resources, without inviting conversation and/or empathy, your loved one may become resentful, fearful, or unreceptive. In your research, be sure to seek out treatment options that are evidence-based, and offer interdisciplinary treatment teams with licensed clinical staff members.
- Offer Help and Reassurance
Once you have started a conversation and demonstrated empathy, you can share what you have learned about support and treatment for mental health disorders. If you are open to it, offering to go with your loved one to learn more about specific treatment options, and remaining involved for the duration, can help them feel reassured that they will not be abandoned. Letting them know they are loved and cared for unconditionally, can help them feel safe and secure.
- Release Expectations
Unless your loved one is suicidal, in which case you should seek immediate professional help, it’s helpful to let go of any time-table for their recovery. Even if your family member is willing to seek treatment, they may never be “completely cured.” It’s normal to have periods of progress and regression during the treatment of mental illness. Letting go of your expectations of your loved one’s mental health recovery, and your own will help you maintain a loving relationship—taking things one day at a time.
- Seek Help for You Too
As we shared earlier, having a relationship with a loved one who has a mental health disorder can be emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing. As much as you can’t fix your beloved person’s mental illness, you can’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself either. Just as your loved one needs support, so do you. There are many resources and support systems in place for those who have a loved one with a mental health disorder.
Taking Care of You
In addition to seeking professional help in the form of counseling, support groups, and/or other valuable resources, there are additional steps you can take to stay physically and emotionally healthy. It’s not uncommon for the loved ones’ of those with mental illness to feel the impact of stress. This can include headaches, lack of energy, upset stomach, muscle aches and pains, and insomnia.
Maintaining your health and wellness can benefit your loved one as well as you! It can help ensure that you remain balanced and are able to better cope with stress in the future.
To keep your physical and mental health in balance, try incorporating the following measures:
- Exercise and eat healthy foods regularly to maintain energy
Sleep between nine and seven hours per night if possible
- Avoid alcohol and drugs when possible (they can worsen stress)
- Take-up activities that are relaxing such as yoga and meditation
- Practice self-care, especially when you begin to feel run down (get a massage, go out with friends, etc.)
- Incorporate thought processes that help diminish guilt and shift to a more positive mindset (gratitude lists, noting joyful experiences, etc.)
- Ask for help—as you know it’s not easy to do, but it can yield happy and fulfilling results!
Next Steps for Your Loved One
Remember, you are not alone! Millions of Americans love someone with a mental health disorder. If you have been searching for a safe and non-judgmental environment for your loved one, Futures Recovery Healthcare has a Mental Health program dedicated to males and females 18 and over struggling with a variety of mental health disorders.
We treat disorders such as Depressive Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Personality Disorders, Bipolar and Related Disorders by using clinical, medical and psychiatric interventions, and support. Our interdisciplinary team approach allows patients to receive holistic services and care. Our goal is to help develop and establish a journey of healing and a life worth living.
We offer individual therapy by licensed clinicians, family therapy, case management support, group therapy, and recreational activities in an effort to help people identify stressors, work on family issues, create lasting recovery plans, promote healthy social skills, improve overall wellbeing and self-care, and more.
You and your loved one can be on the way to healing, happiness, and more peaceful life. Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098.