6 Ways to Help a Loved One with Mental Illness

Mental illness is a topic that has long been misunderstood, and only relatively recently has the world started to understand just how widespread and devastating its impact can be on individuals, families, and societies. For the family and friends of someone suffering from mental illness, one of the most difficult parts is accepting that they cannot cure them. Having said that, providing the right support network can make a big difference to their recovery. If someone you care about is or has been struggling with their mental health, here are six ways that you can help them in their recovery.

1. Learn as much as you can

The more you understand, the more you will be able to support and help your loved one. Studies have shown that mental health patients who are surrounded by people who have knowledge of their condition and treatment have significantly improved recoveries and are less likely to relapse. If you do not understand what is happening to your loved one or believe that their mental illness is something they can ‘snap out of’, you will not be able to appreciate the severity of their symptoms or recognize signs of a relapse.

2. Set realistic expectations

A common setback for people recovering from mental illness is having too much expectation placed on their recovery. When a person receives treatment, whether that’s medication, hospital treatment, or counseling, family members can expect them to be cured almost straight away. When they are not, they can become frustrated, judgmental, and impatient. People with mental illness recover at very different rates, and it is common for progress to be interrupted by setbacks. Be patient, calm, and let them know that you will support them.

3. Find professional support

Some families may feel that they do not need or want to seek professional support for their loved one. Whether your loved one is struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, mental health professionals can significantly improve their recovery prospects and minimize the likelihood of relapse. This is particularly relevant when it comes to serious mental health conditions like schizophrenia. There are recovery and rehabilitation centers specializing in schizophrenia case management, such as the Life Adjustment Team, that can help people rebuild and improve their quality of life.

4. Encourage your loved one to take control

Many people with mental illnesses believe that they have no control over their lives, and they often struggle with low self-esteem, so it is often recommended that families and friends do not exacerbate this by being heavily critical or controlling. Your loved one needs compassion and understanding, as well as the ability to make decisions about their own life, even if that means some trial and error.

5. Maintain some boundaries

However, there is a limit to how much of a backseat a supportive family member or friend should take. If someone is making decisions or engaging in behaviors that are dangerous, e.g., overindulging in alcohol, taking drugs, or behaving aggressively, it is important to set and maintain boundaries. For example, a family might tell a person who is refusing to take their medication, drinking too much alcohol, and behaving aggressively, that they will only allow them to continue living with them if those behaviors stop. Ultimately, they have put the decision in their loved one’s hands but set clear expectations they can follow. 

6. Look after your own health

Mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are not caused by other people but by a person’s biology, but some families can feel immense guilt when their loved one is diagnosed. This is untrue and unhelpful as caregivers need to remain mentally and physically strong for their loved one. Be sure to take care of your own physical and mental health to ensure you can provide the best possible care and support without running yourself into the ground.

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