Coping with a Loved One's Mental Illness
When a loved one suffers a debilitating, persistent and chronic mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, those feelings can be compounded. Strange, unpredictable behaviors can be terrifying and confusing. Your loved one may suddenly rage at you with blame or be utterly dependent upon you for basic needs and emotional stability.
You may experience many confusing emotions yourself, including anger, grief, guilt, fear and sadness. As you struggle with each episode of illness and worry about the future, you may feel anxious and overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, since serious mental illness still carries a stigma, you may be keeping it a secret, resulting in increased isolation, frustration and difficulty because you may have no one to talk to about your feelings or no way to get information and support.
How to Help Yourself
When you’re in the middle of a chaotic or confusing situation, taking care of yourself can be the last thing you think of, yet, it is crucial. According to NAMI, the National Association for the Mentally Ill, here are a few ways to do that:
Educate yourself about mental illness. Read everything you can about your loved one’s condition, its treatment options, as well as tools and strategies for coping with the illness and minimizing relapses. NAMI has a wealth of written and audio material, as well as 1,200 local U.S chapters.
Seek support. You do not have to suffer in silence. NAMI offers free support groups for loved ones as well as a HelpLine: 1-800-950-6264. You can find enormous relief from sharing your thoughts and feelings in a supportive environment among those who understand.
Accept the reality of the situation. While you can offer valuable support and love, you cannot cure your loved one’s mental disorder. His or her symptoms may get better or they may get worse. Hospitalization may be necessary. Medication can restore stability and functionality, but may not heal the condition. You may have to lower your expectations of what your loved one can do. For instance, he or she may only be able to work part-time or, in some cases, not at all.
Set boundaries and clear limits. If you feel strong resentment, you are giving too much. If you need a break from the situation, find a way to get it. Don’t tolerate violent behavior. As hard as it is, consider if you need to leave the situation or make other arrangements for care.
Don’t lose hope. Advances in our understanding and treatment of severe and chronic mental illness occur every day. People get better and learn effective ways to cope. Relapses can become less common and shorter in duration.
While your loved one may never completely heal, and coping with the situation may challenge you like nothing else, it is possible to learn how to manage the stress of the situation as you care for your loved one as well as yourself.
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