How to Help a Mentally Ill Relative
Table of Contents
Mental Illness and The Family System
Seeing a loved one in distress can be heartbreaking. The family member may be displaying behaviors or physical signs of a serious mental health condition, and is clearly struggling to perform even basic daily tasks as a result. You can see there is something wrong, but just do not know what to do to help them. Many family members do not know how to help a mentally ill relative, and may not take the actions that could truly help their loved one. Meanwhile, the condition worsens.
Mental health disorders impact nearly 44 million of us each and every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many people live with serious mental illness, not knowing how to go about finding help or shrinking from the perceived and real stigma attached to mental health disorders. Knowing how to help a mentally relative get the treatment they need and deserve is of utmost importance.
Signs Your Loved One Has Mental Illness
It is usually the family members who initially notice that their loved one is not themselves. The first signs of emotional distress might be subtle, barely detectable by coworkers or friends. Within a family setting, however, there is more opportunity to notice changes in habits, behaviors, and appearance.
Each particular mental health disorder has its own set of signs and symptoms that can expose the possible diagnosis. Generally, however, there are some common signs of mental illness, including:
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
- Problems concentrating, fuzzy thinking, memory issues
- Mood swings
- Lack of interest in activities and social events once enjoyed
- Decreased interest in personal hygiene
- Rapid weight gain or weight loss
- Substance abuse
- Dissociate behaviors, detachment from reality
- Exhibit excessive worry
- Talk of death or suicide
It is important not to jump to the conclusion that your relative has mental illness if they exhibit a cluster of these warning signs. There may be a medical condition that is associated with the symptoms.
Common Mental Health Disorders
Although the DSM-5 is packed with about 300 different diagnosable mental health disorders, there are under a dozen that are highly prevalent in current times. Some of these include:
Anxiety Disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Once a thorough medical examination and psychological evaluation have been completed, the physician or mental health practitioner will make a diagnosis and create a treatment strategy.
How to Help a Mentally Ill Relative
It is difficult to admit that your loved one may be experiencing mental illness. Feelings of disbelief, guilt, shame, sadness, or anger are common among family members when it becomes apparent that their relative has a mental health disorder. People are not confident about how to go about helping their loved one, which leads to feelings of worry and stress.
There are, however, several steps to take to help your distressed family member. These might include:
- Become informed by learning about the signs of mental illness and research the ones you suspect may be possibilities as well as possible treatment options
- Find a quiet, private setting to ask them about how they are feeling. Speaking in a calm tone, gently ask them if they are okay and if they would like to talk about anything that is bothering them
- Respectfully listen to them without interjecting one’s own bias or denial of what they are conveying
- Show genuine concern for your loved one
- Offer encouragement that they will overcome the illness
- Offer to help them make the first appointments and to accompany them
- Be an advocate for your loved one’s treatment and recovery process, as a second set of ears and eyes that can help ensure treatment compliance and accurate communication between the doctor and the family member
- If the family member is having a difficult time handling tasks such as paying bills, keeping up with housework, or running errands, offer to assist them without taking over all control. It is important they continue to feel like functioning members of a family and of society.
- Ensure the relative knows that the family loves them unconditionally
In the event the family member is experiencing a serious mental health crisis, such as attempts at suicide or a psychotic event, it is appropriate to get them admitted to a hospital that provides acute stabilization. There the loved one will be monitored and evaluated in a safe, supportive medical environment.
Treatment Options for Mental Health Disorders
Treatment for mental health conditions does vary somewhat depending on the diagnosis, however there are some basic treatment elements involved. Treatment protocol will evolve according to the patient’s progress, or lack there of, with medications tweaked and adjunctive treatment added to the treatment plan.
These are the basic mental health treatments used:
- Medication. A wide array of psychotropic medications is available for helping to manage the symptoms of mental health disorders. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, antianxiety medications, and more are prescribed in tandem with psychotherapy other treatment measures
- Psychotherapy. There are different types of psychotherapies for treating various mental health disorders. The most commonly used are cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, interpersonal therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, solutions-focused therapy, exposure therapy, and attachment therapy.
- Adjunctive therapies. Therapeutic activities that compliment the psychotherapy and enhance treatment results. These can be such therapies as eye movement desensitization (EMDR), transcranial magnetic stimulation, or biofeedback for example.
Mental health disorders can be treated in a variety of settings. These include residential, hospital, outpatient or day programs, or group home settings. The type of mental illness and the severity of the condition help dictate the level of care that is appropriate.
The Treatment Specialist Provides Important Information About Mental Health Disorders
The Treatment Specialist is a valuable online resource for information on mental health and addiction conditions and treatment options. Call The Treatment Specialist today to learn about mental health treatment options at 866-644-7911.
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