Caring for A Loved One with Mental Illness: Tips and Support
About 8.4 million Americans are caregivers to adults with emotional or mental health conditions. If you’re a caregiver to a family member who has some type of mental illness, then you know it can be an emotional rollercoaster. Between finding the right therapist, to monitoring their meds and appointments, it’s a full-time job. Not only do you have to help with daily activities, but coping with the "bad days" isn't easy for even the most experienced caregiver. Mental conditions such as Depression and Bipolar Disorder are some of the most common disorders, but others such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Schizophrenia are also very common. While you may not completely understand what your loved one is going through yourself, you can be there for them. Here are tips and resources you can use for yourself and for them. Remember you are never alone and support is available to you!
Tips for Caregivers with Family Members That Are Mentally Ill
It can be difficult to know the right thing to say or do when it comes to managing a loved one with mental illness. It takes time, education and awareness to properly learn how to handle difficult situations. Professional care will most likely be needed, but there are other things you can do yourself that will make a world of a difference to them.
Be a friend- listen and be there when you need your loved one needs you. Saying phrases like "I am here for you" and "I believe in you" bring hope and encouragement.
Make time for yourself - it's important to set time for yourself to reflect and take time for self-care .
Solve one issue at a time- this will prevent burn out and help you manage your tasks.
Take care of your health- stay active, eat well and get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
Get additional help when needed- support groups, therapists and family members are great ways to take some load off your plate when needed.
Get educated on their specific condition- the more you know about their condition the better you can manage your loved one.
Free Support Classes for Family Caregivers
As a caregiver, you will not be able to solve all your loved one's problems, but you can speak with others on how to help them during their more difficult days. Facilitators from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are trained to provide a structured program that caregivers can benefit from training courses that are held across the country. There are various free classes available for different purposes.
NAMI Basics is a class for parents and caregivers of children and adolescents who have either been diagnosed with a mental health condition or who are experiencing symptoms but have not been diagnosed.
NAMI Family-to-Family is another class for families, partners, and friends of individuals with mental illness. The course is designed to facilitate a better understanding of mental illness, increase coping skills and empower participants to become an advocate for their family members.
NAMI Homefront is a class for families, partners and friends of military service members and veterans experiencing a mental health challenge.
Support Groups for Caregivers & Their Loved Ones
If your loved one is recovering from a recent crisis or needs help managing their condition, there are friendly, welcoming, confidential support groups the whole family can benefit from. Remember, you also need support and there are groups available where you can meet other caregivers going through similar situations as you.
NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group- A weekly or monthly support group for people living with a mental health condition.
NAMI Family Support Group- A weekly or monthly support group for family members, partners, and friends of individuals living with mental illness.
Other Helpful Resources for Caregivers
Crisis hotlines for families are available 24/7. Call them when you need to speak to someone about a difficult situation.
Crisis Intervention Teams are available to assist at your home during crisis situations with care and patience.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is another organization that offers in-person and online support for people and families with loved ones with mental health illnesses.
This Circle of Care Resource Guide reminds caregivers of the areas they need to meet to be their best selves. Are you meeting each area of the circle?
Caregivers, you are the glue that keeps the family together, but you can't do it all alone- help is needed at times. Remember that you can only give the best care if you're in good shape. The more educated you are on your loved one's illness and the time you set aside for yourself is only going to help you in the long run. Take care of yourself and reach out for help when needed. There are millions of others that are going through the same thing as you.