Mental Illness

While the specifics of diagnosis and treatment vary, there are some basics to consider if you provide care to someone experiencing a mental disorder.

According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 50 million Americans have a clearly diagnosable mental disorder, one causing a degree of incapacity that interferes with employment, attendance at school, or daily life. This constitutes 22% of the population. But the total number of people affected is much larger. Consider the family and friends associated with the care of these individuals. As a member of a care team, you should never feel alone, or isolated.

Obviously, providing care for one type of mental disorder can be very different than caring for another. In general, however:

  • Do not downplay what your loved one is feeling or going through. For those individuals who have developed a condition later in life, feelings of guilt, anger, and confusion are common and – to a large extent – understandable. The individual may feel they have been made unfairly dependent on family, friends, and the health care team for everything from money to personal care.
  • Try not to treat the situation as something taboo or shameful. Encourage your loved one to talk about their feelings by being an active listener.
  • Encourage your loved one to maintain all aspects of his or her physical health. This includes good diet and nutrition, as well as exercise.
  • Do what you can to help loved one learn about the disorder and understand the treatment. Encourage them to play an active role by “reading up” and researching the condition,
  • Help your loved one to understand and follow advice given by medical professionals on the care team. This may involves asking any questions he or she has.
  • Invite other family and friends to send letters of encouragement or to visit your loved one in small groups.
  • Look into finding a support or therapy group for your loved one if he or she is able to attend. You might also try to find a group for caregivers or family members dealing with the similar problems. Joining this group may help you to understand your feelings and experiences as part of the process of acceptance.
  • Obtain the most knowledgeable medical help you can and make these individuals part of the care team. In these circumstances, it’s especially important that you both are able to trust the recommendations of your medical professionals. Be thorough investigating and choosing these individuals.
  • Participate in mutually enjoyable activities with your loved one. Don’t limit the time you spend with him or her to the particulars of the care situation.
  • Have hope. Remember that there are treatments for most all mental disorders, and these continue to improve as medical research breaks new ground. Don’t just look into these treatments with your loved one, but encourage active participation in a treatment program.
  • Remember that your loved one’s actions and words may not mirror what he or she truly feels about you. During those times when you perceive your loved one is not fully in control, try to be patient. If you will be facing this situation indefinitely, it’s even more important to seek out a support group made up of individuals with similar experiences.

Finally, take care of yourself. You cannot make a contribution without looking after your own well-being. Blaming yourself for your loved one’s condition only wastes energy that’s better spent in a positive way.

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