Mental illness affects everyone. Whether you’re suffering from depression or caring for someone who is, half of the battle is learning to deal with a family member’s mental illness constructively. Understand that you can’t fix their depression, but you can help them manage it. Here are a few healthy habits that will help you and the rest of the family deal with your loved one’s mental illness.
Accept your family member’s mental illness
When depression or anxiety strikes a family member, it’s easy to feel like you may be responsible. That couldn’t be more false. More importantly, your loved one does not want you to feel responsible for their mental illness. In fact, it may even make them feel like you don’t understand their struggle.
Likewise, discounting a loved one’s mental struggle will cause them to pull away. Do not tell your son or your spouse to simply get over their depression. If they could, they would. Accept that their mental illness is just that- an illness. Know that a bad day out of depression can be as bad as the flu. Treat them accordingly.
Encourage and support their treatment
It’s likely that if your family member is suffering from a severe mental illness that they’re seeking outside help from a counselor or therapist. If this is the case, let them know that you’re proud of them for doing so. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma around seeking the help of the therapist (especially for men). Verbally showing your support for your loved ones healing will help them stay strong in their treatment.
Tell them that you’re proud of them for seeing a therapist. Encourage them to use the healthy coping mechanisms that therapy is teaching them. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help support that treatment. You may even find that your family member enjoys having you involved in their treatment process.
Learn about your family member’s mental illness
It’s natural for human beings to be scared of what they don’t understand. To conquer that fear, take the time to learn about what is afflicting your loved one. Between Google and simply asking your loved one how their illness affects them, your family member will know that you are there for them.
NAMI is a great resource for those who are supporting a family member with mental illness. You may also consider talking to your loved one’s therapist to learn about common warning signs of mental crisis.
Learn to stay calm during behavioral outbursts
As you probably learned by now, mental illness can cause a variety of behavioral issues. But even when your teen is yelling at the top of their lungs “I want to kill myself,” it’s important to understand that they’re not trying to threaten you. They are in distress. Do not belittle their emotions or raise the emotional ceiling and join them in the chaos. Instead, talk to them calmly and try to facilitate a safe environment for everyone involved.
For example, if your loved one is having a panic attack now is not the time to tell them to just calm down. Recognize their panic attack and let them know that you’re there for them. If possible, talk to them when they’re in a calmer mood and ask how you should react when they’re having an outburst. Even if they don’t have an answer for you right away it will get them thinking about how they want you to be supportive during these times.
Remember to take care of yourself
When you’re supporting a family member with mental illness, it’s important to make time for self-care. Caretaking in any way, shape, or form takes a toll on you. If you don’t take the time to take care of your own mental health, you’ll quickly find that you need someone to take care of you too. Don’t sacrifice self-care time or your hobbies because of you are caretaking a family member with depression. Instead, call in the rest of the family to help you support that person. The old saying that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else applies here.
More importantly, self-care will give you a break from the pressure caretakers often feel. Doing activities and hobbies that truly make you happy will help you stay grounded and in turn, help you ground your family member.
Find a support group of your own
Nearly 17 million Americans suffer from depression or another form of mental illness every year. So if you’re thinking you’re alone in supporting your family member, you’re not. You can find an array of support groups both online and in the real world that will help you support your family as you deal with a loved one’s mental illness. In a sense, this is a form of therapy for you too.
By interacting with others who are supporting a family member with mental illness, you can gain a sense of community. This community can relate to you and understand the struggles that come alongside dealing with a family member who is mentally ill. You may even find lifelong friends by doing so.
Believe in your family member’s ability to cope
As cliche as it may sound, don’t lose hope. Though mental illness may not be cured it can be well managed. Have faith that no matter how hard things are right now, your family members can improve their coping mechanisms and in turn improve their life.