It’s hard to overstate the impact that caring family members can have in the lives of individuals dealing with serious mental illnesses. Those living with mental health challenges may engage with their families far more than their mental health care providers, and everyday interactions with parents, children, spouses, siblings and other relatives play a pivotal role in helping them pursue recovery. Below are seven things family caregivers can do to support a loved one in their struggle with mental illness.
Learning about a loved one’s mental illness is vital to coming alongside that person in a way that’s truly helpful. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America and the National Institute of Mental Health provide reliable information on mental health conditions, helping family members understand common symptoms, treatments and approaches that can make it easier for their loved one to manage their symptoms and stick to a treatment plan. Knowledge about mental illness can also enable family members to better understand how their loved one’s condition impacts their own thoughts, feelings and behavior.
See the Person Before the Illness
A person living with a mental illness is not the illness, the same way someone with cancer or diabetes is not their condition. Seeing a loved one who’s struggling with their mental health as a multifaceted individual rather than just a person with a medical condition affirms that person’s value and communicates that they’re seen with dignity.
Family members of those dealing with serious mental health challenges need the support of others to stay mentally healthy and able to care for their loved ones. Trusted confidants who can listen and offer encouragement as well as practical help can make a world of difference for family caregivers. Support groups like NAMI Family Support Groups and Grace Alliance’s Family Grace Groups as well as classes such as NAMI Family-to-Family can provide connection and camaraderie, as well as insight and helpful strategies for effectively coming alongside a family member.
Family members can have a huge influence on their loved one’s efforts to pursue wellness. By providing practical assistance such as transportation to doctors’ appointments or reminders to take medication, caregivers can make it easier for an individual wrestling with a mental health condition to follow their treatment plan. In addition, by pursuing healthy habits such as sharing regular, nutritious meals and being active, families can foster their mental wellness together and create an environment that promotes stability.
Be Prepared for a Crisis
Having a plan in place can help families respond appropriately and according to their loved one’s wishes in the event of a mental health crisis. A crisis plan plan typically includes information such as names and contact information of preferred mental health care providers, medications a person is taking and those that haven’t worked well in the past, and symptoms that indicate an individual needs trusted caregivers to step in.
Make Self-Care a Priority
Those who care for individuals living with serious mental illnesses often put self-care on the back burner. But it’s vital that family caregivers also invest in their own physical, mental and spiritual well-being. This can include strategies such as devoting regular time to exercise, pursuing a hobby and scheduling time away to be refreshed.
Support Organizations That Improve the Lives of Those Dealing With Mental Illness
By supporting organizations that come alongside individuals living with serious mental illness, families can help not only their loved ones but many others dealing with similar conditions. Volunteering at and giving to The Well Community are ways that family members can provide a place to belong for those in the Dallas area who live with life-altering mental health challenges. Many members of The Well Community don’t have family members who are able to come alongside and support them. For them, The Well is their family.