Don’t Give Up: Find Support
As you adjust to the emotions and stresses of loving someone with a serious mental illness, it’s important to identify sources of support. Often, some of the best support comes from others who are in your shoes. Consider joining a family support group to meet others experiencing similar challenges. To find such a group, ask at your local hospitals or community mental health agency, or contact your local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Participating in family programs, in which you participate in education and treatment sessions with your loved one, can also be beneficial. Family-led programs, many led by trained instructors who themselves have a relative with mental illness, can help families learn how to cope. Furthermore, research has shown that family-based programs can also improve well-being for many people with serious mental illnesses.
When you discover a loved one is ill, it’s often hard to focus your attention on anything else. But it’s important to take care of your own needs. Try to eat healthy meals, get some exercise and get enough sleep. Making time to do things you enjoy will help you keep your stress levels in check. You’ll be better able to support your loved one if you take steps to maintain your own physical and mental health.
Serious mental illnesses often present logistical challenges as well as emotional ones. Your family member may not be able to work, at least temporarily. You may need to help your loved one locate affordable housing, secure transportation to and from appointments, or figure out how to pay for and pick up medications. Ask your relative’s doctors and mental health professionals if they know of any social services available in your community that may be able to help with these types of day-to-day activities. When possible, reach out to other friends and family members to help ease your responsibilities. You might be surprised how happy they are to lend a hand — if you let them.
It’s normal for the family dynamic to change when one family member is diagnosed with a serious mental illness. It will probably take some time to accept those changes and establish a new routine. It helps to remember that people with serious mental illnesses can live rich, fulfilling lives — and so can you.
Thanks to Shirley M. Glynn, PhD, Karen Kangas, EdD, and Susan Pickett, PhD, for contributing to this article.