How To Cope When A Loved One Has A Mental Illness

Coping with the mental illness of a loved one

It can be stressful when a loved one has a mental illness – but knowledge and the right attitude can help.

If you have just found out that someone you care about has a mental illness you might wonder what it means and want to help. Accept your feelings and limitations. You may feel distress, anger, shame or guilt. It’s normal to have any of these feelings. Neither you nor the person with the mental illness are to blame.

Accept your limitations. Acknowledge what you can and can’t do; if there is a type of care you cannot provide, be honest with your loved one, and help them arrange alternative care options.

Develop a positive attitude

You are best supporting someone with a mental illness if you have an optimistic attitude. You can foster one by learning more about the illness, treatment and services available.

Be prepared for mental illness symptoms that may vary, and come and go. You might need to offer more support at times, and less at times when things ‘return to normal’.

Above all, remember there are effective treatments and great hope for people with mental illness. Most are able to embark on a journey of recovery when they get the right help.

Take time to care for yourself

Remember to look after yourself. Acknowledge your own feelings and any need for support. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting supporting a person with a mental illness, and you need to be healthy and strong to support them.

The following tips have helped others cope with their caring role, which you too may find useful.

  • Set time aside every week for something you enjoy (be it sport, listening to music, getting a massage, reading.)
  • Try to put some time aside for your own socialising.
  • Get enough sleep, eat healthy food and get some exercise. This is important for yourself as well as the adults or children you’re supporting.
  • Gain balance between wanting to help, and becoming over-involved. Encourage independence in your loved one – it helps their confidence.
  • Consider contacting a support group for family, friends or carers of people with mental illness. (See the links to more information below)
  • Counselling can help work through your own feelings and ensure you’re at your best for those you’re supporting.

Develop care plans when the person is well

It’s tempting to think when a mental illness ‘episode’ is over, things will return to normal indefinitely – but most mental illnesses have ‘ups and downs’. It’s wise to talk to your loved one along with with other family members, friends or even a health care provider to develop a care plan which outlines how things will be handled if the person becomes unwell. This is particularly important where there are children in the family. Having a plan reassures them they’ll be safe if things become unstable.

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