Mental illness is a health condition that involves the brain. Mental illness causes problems with thinking, mood, or behavior that interfere with daily life and cause distress. If you are a family member or friend of someone who is mentally ill, you have probably been suffering too. You are likely to feel worried, frustrated, confused, and sometimes despairing. You may not understand why your loved one just can't stop these behaviors. You may feel:
It is important to remember that you can't:
If someone you love is diagnosed with a mental illness, how can you help? Work together with the person who is ill and the team of mental health professionals. Take things slowly, step by step. The speed of progress is not as important as moving in the right direction. Try to keep a positive attitude toward your loved one. A non-judgmental attitude allows the person to focus on coping and getting well, rather than trying to deal with anger and resentment.
Understand that your loved one has an illness. There are treatments and possibly medicine for it, just like a heart problem. You need information about mental illness and its meaning for your family. This will help you know what behaviors to expect and what to do and say if those behaviors are exhibited. Spend time learning more about the illness.
Consider joining a support group. Talking with other people who face the same challenges can help you cope with the mental illness and its impact on your life. Talk honestly about your feelings and encourage others in the family to do the same.
In addition to your needs for information, skills, and support, you face the special challenge of recognizing that your needs and desires matter. Do not ignore your own needs while you try to meet the needs of your loved one. Caring for someone with mental illness can take a lot of energy. Schedule time for yourself to relax and relieve your stress. Accept your feelings, and find ways of releasing them every day. Some suggestions about how to do this are:
For more information, contact the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) or Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association or NMHA).