Michelle Barratt Psychology - Brisbane Clinical Psychologist
COPING WITH MENTAL HEALTH AS A FAMILY MEMBER
Coping with Mental Health as a Family Member
It can be difficult to see a loved one struggle with mental illness. You may worry about their well-being, struggle with your own difficult thoughts and feelings or not know how to support your loved one in a meaningful way. Often mental illness affects not only the individual with the diagnosis but their whole family. This may create tension, uncertainty, anger or grief over how your loved one or your lifestyle has been changed by the illness. It’s important to understand that although difficult, these feelings are normal. Acknowledging and talking about them can help you come to terms with the illness and overcome challenges.
If you are a parent, family member, friend or partner of someone who is struggling with mental illness, you may have noticed changes in your loved one’s behaviour, mood, perception, relationships or ability to manage daily responsibilities. Understanding these changes and supporting your loved one as well as managing your thoughts, feelings and responsibilities can sometimes be overwhelming and can even lead to your own mental health illness.
If you are becoming overwhelmed here are a few tips for coping with mental health as a family member:
Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can about the illness. This will help to reduce misconceptions and assist you to determine what you can reasonably do to support your loved one.
Be patient: Your loved one may be struggling with accepting their diagnosis or exhibiting challenging or complex behaviours. It’s important to remember that getting better takes time and your loved one can’t just “snap out of it.”
Listen: The power of listening is often overlooked. You don’t always have to know the answers, sometimes listening without judgement is just as effective. Giving your loved one uninterrupted time and space to talk can be calming and reassuring.
Motivate them to seek help: Encourage your loved one to be involved as much as possible in seeking treatment, looking after themselves physically, taking part in daily activities and socialising.
Offer support: Let your loved one know that you love them and are available for support. Some ways you may be able to support your loved one include offering to talk to them about how they feel, taking them to appointments, encouraging them to take their medication, helping to create low stress environments or organise fun activities to do together.
Make an emergency plan: If your loved one experiences suicidal thoughts, self-harming or becomes aggressive towards others it may be helpful to create an emergency plan together including what to do and who to contact should these behaviours occur. It may also be helpful to discuss this plan with a health professional such as a doctor or psychologist.
Self-care: Supporting a loved one with a mental illness isn’t easy. It is important to look after yourself and to set clear boundaries on what you are willing and able to do. Make sure you make time for your own hobbies, physical activity and friends. Remember it’s okay for you to seek your own support such as talking to a psychologist, joining a support group or confiding in a trusted friend.
When a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness it will take some time to accept and establish a new routine. Ensure you are looking after your own physical, social and emotional needs. Look out for signs that you are becoming stressed and consider talking to a mental health professional. Speaking to a psychologist may benefit you and your loved one by helping you to better understand and manage situations and behaviours that may arise. Role modelling this behaviour may influence your loved one to also access professional help.
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Author: Melanie Green - Registered Psychologist with Michelle Barratt Psychology. Brisbane based Clinical Psychology Practice - Promoting the Therapeutic Care and Therapy for mental health issues.
American Psychological Association (2016). Supporting a Family Member with Serious Mental Illness. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/improving-care.aspx
SANE Australia (2016). Supporting Someone Having Thoughts of Suicide. Retrieved from https://www.sane.org/the-sane-blog/suicide-prevention/supporting-someone-having-thoughts-of-suicide