For many individuals struggling with mental illness or families walking alongside those coping with mental illness, the future can seem bleak and the present can seem lonely. Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, struggling individuals, families and communities fail to recognize their illness for what it is – and when they do acknowledge it, it is often too painful to do anything but sweep it under the rug. If there is one thing survivors and their family members have learned, it is that pretending like everything is okay rarely ever solves the problem.
Walking alongside a family member struggling with mental illness is extremely challenging, causing emotional and physical exhaustion and sometimes detached feelings, denial and the unfortunate outcome of enabling existing issues out of a genuine desire to encourage change. If someone in your family has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia, experts acknowledge that you may be experiencing your own concerns, doubts, emotional hardships and questions about the disorder.
Because family members are inevitably affected by mental illness, counselors and other mental health experts encourage them to push past feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration or resentment to remember that a loved one’s illness is no one’s fault. It is possible to extend support, understanding and hope in a healthy way.
The following are tips outlined for family and friends dealing with a loved one suffering from mental illness:
- Research the condition from dependable sources, including symptoms and treatments.
- Extend assistance in getting professional treatment and help, attending appointments or keeping track of records, treatment, progress, setbacks, symptoms and so forth.
- Try to sustain unwavering positivity, as the disorder will affect the loved one’s attitude, beliefs and negative thinking.
- Take care of yourself and other family members by joining a support group, seeking therapy or encouraging other outlets and conversations to remind yourself that you are not alone.
- Adjust your expectations and remember that your loved one may recover, but it will most likely happen slowly. Nurture a positive, hopeful attitude and stay aware of your own needs. Schedule downtime to sort through your own concerns, assessing how it is taking an emotional toll on your own life.
- If hospitalization is needed and symptoms worsen, take action immediately and help him or her return to stability afterward. Research local hospitals and investigate inpatient and outpatient services, as well as insurance and financial needs. Be assertive to ensure the best treatment.
- Consider family counseling, as mental illness can cloud judgment and cause misunderstandings. Learn positive coping strategies and relaxation techniques to help your family member.
- Most importantly, do not blame yourself, whether you are helping a child or an elderly relative with mental disorders. Don’t give up hope and surround yourself with your own valuable support system.
Advice for anyone struggling with mental illness
If you coping with mental illness, remember that you are irreplaceable and that there are better days ahead. The following are a few tips for those dealing with any number of mental illnesses:
- Reach out, as two out of three people with depression do not seek help. Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide. Find a counselor, a friend, join a support group or call a hotline if you feel that your life is in danger.
- Invest in counseling, viewing it as a way to strengthen your future and wellbeing rather than a sign of personal weakness. Your mental state and psychological distress is not an outpouring of weakness or insignificance. See a doctor who can diagnose your possible disorder and provide you with appropriate medication.
- Build community and focus on relationships that are honest, full of love and not judgment and ones that promote mental health. Surrounding yourself with people who are there in the midst of struggle and there in the midst of victories are the kind of community you want to sustain.
- Reclaim your mental and physical health. You owe it to yourself to get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet and pursue overall treatment for your disorder with a renewed commitment. Hold yourself accountable and utilize accountability partners as well.
At Safe Harbor Christian Counseling, your mental health is held in the highest regard. Safe Harbor extends excellent outpatient mental health services to help individuals and families reach their full potential and purpose through a biblical framework. The outpatient mental health services include individual therapy, couples therapy and family therapy as well as phone and video counseling. The group is dedicated to providing hope and encouragement to individuals during their darkest hour.
For more information on Safe Harbor’s counseling, coaching and therapy services, visit http://www.safeharbor1.com. Interested individuals are welcome to join in on the faith-based dialogue found on our Facebook page and following Safe Harbor Christian Counseling on Twitter.