Bearing witness to a loved one’s mental illness can be a soul-crushing experience. It can be a time of frustration where we feel powerless and frightened, regardless of whether the illness has arisen from physical injury or is the result of abusive and self-destructive behavior.
The unpredictable nature characteristic of many mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia can add fear of the unknown into the equation. Strange and often terrifying behavior can force us into a constant state of wariness, stress, and confusion. It’s unsettling to be the brunt of a loved one’s incomprehensible rage one minute, only to have them become vulnerable and completely dependent on you the next.
The nature of their illness can cause you to experience your own mental hell, where you go through various emotional states, including anger, grief, fear, sadness, and guilt. Every episode takes its toll on both you and your loved one, and you soon find yourself anxious about what the future holds. The overwhelming nature of the situation can, at times, be crippling.
There is often a stigma associated with mental illness, and many people will go to great lengths to keep it a secret. This strategy will only lead to further isolation as you struggle to cope without the support and information that is readily available from many different sources. Plus, the therapeutic benefits of having someone to talk to about your challenges can not be understated.
Helping Yourself Cope
You won’t be able to care for a mentally ill loved one if you at first don’t take care of yourself. The National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has the following advice on how you can prepare for looking after a mentally ill loved one:
Stay hopeful. The body of knowledge regarding our understanding of severe mental illness is growing every day. People recover or can be taught how to cope with their condition. With effective treatment, the time between relapses is growing for many conditions. They also have a shorter duration when they do occur.
Create boundaries and have well-defined limits. Growing resentment means you are neglecting your self-care and may need a break. You need to ensure you set some time aside for yourself so you can regroup. Violent behavior should never be tolerated. If it gets too much, you may need to remove yourself from the situation by seeking alternative care arrangements.
Accept reality. Focus on the support and love you can provide while accepting that your loved one may never be completely cured of a mental illness. The patient may partially recover, but there’s also the possibility they will grow steadily worse over the years, and they may require hospitalization. Medications can restore some functionality and stability but will not completely heal the condition. You may also need to consider lowering your expectations about your loved one’s capabilities. In some instances, they may be able to continue with part-time work, but in a lot of cases, they may have to leave work altogether.
Get support. There is no reason for you to endure on your own. There are free support groups offered by NAMI, which includes a helpline at 1-800-950-6264. You will feel some relief when you can talk freely in an understanding environment. Plus, the advice you receive from people experienced in a similar situation to yours can be invaluable.
Self-educate about mental illness. When a mental illness causes your loved one to behave in a seemingly illogically way, understanding their condition can help a great deal. As you read up on everything you can about the mental illness, you will also come across advice, strategies, and tools you can use to help you deal with the illness and reduce the occurrence of relapses. There are a heap of resources available from NAMI, which provides access to written and audio material and 1,200 local U.S. chapters.
Consider counseling for yourself or your loved one for additional personal support. Read more by clicking here: Depression Treatment