Caring for Someone with Mental Illness
Living with a mental illness can provide significant challenges for anyone and these challenges are often exacerbated by factors outside their control. Some people who experience mental illnesses are never aware they are ill, while those who are aware are frequently stigmatised. Regardless, it’s important that they have a support system to help them manage their illness.
People who live with a mental illness require support and understanding from those around them to optimise their well-being. The range of symptoms experienced by people with mental illness varies quite widely, but mental health professionals always stress the importance of patience and awareness from their carers.
Whether someone you care for has recently been diagnosed with a mental illness or you have extensive experience in looking after someone with mental illness, there are important considerations to keep in mind. Proper care can mean the difference between a person living well with their mental illness or spiralling.
How Do You Care for Someone with a Mental Illness?
Caring for someone with a mental illness can be a major commitment. Although it can be emotionally and physically demanding, it can also be equally rewarding. For their best chance of recovery, you will find yourself better equipped if you have as much information as possible about their situation, about their illness, and about the treatments available to them. Be sure to use reputable channels, speak to others with the same illness, people in similar care roles, well-informed doctors, and, if possible, other professionals who specialise in the field.
If the person you are caring for is dealing with a severe mental illness, be aware of your own safety at all times. If you ever feel threatened or unsafe, it is important to remove yourself from the situation.
Don’t forget there are mental health assistance programs that can help you. Do your research before you take on caring for a person with mental illness. If possible, establish a support network for you and the person you’re caring for, try to understand what their illness entails, and how it will affect your life.
Things you can do to Care For Someone With a Mental Illness
If you are tasked with looking after a person with a mental illness, there are many ways in which you can help them:
- Provide emotional support
- Support them with day-to-day tasks
- Be there for them during challenging times
- Advocate for them
- Encourage them to seek help
- Promote their confidence in making their own decisions
- Support them throughout their treatment
Strategies to Use When Caring for Someone With a Mental Illness
There are useful strategies you can implement into your care to provide the best support possible for a person with mental illness:
- Be honest, talk openly, and encourage them to be open with you and their loved ones about how they are doing and feeling.
- Do research about the illness using reputable sources such as government or health organisations or resources written by specialists.
- Encourage them to take an active role in their recovery and to live a healthy lifestyle.
- Set limits with them about how far you can go and what you are unable to help them with.
- Research local or online training courses for mental health carers.
- Join a mental health support group or meet with and speak to other people in similar situations.
- Take any talk of self harm or suicide seriously and reach out to a healthcare professional about it immediately.
- Make a back-up plan for alternative care in case you have to go away or need leave.
- Keep communication channels open when possible, not just with the person you are caring for, but also with family members, healthcare professionals, and medical administrative staff.
How to Care For Someone Having a Mental Health Crisis
A mental health crisis could mean someone is feeling suicidal, experiencing severe anxiety, reacting to a life problem, or having a psychotic episode. It could also be a combination of any of these things. If you find someone in this situation, there are a few things you can do to to connect with the person in distress:
- If you don’t know the person, introduce yourself calmly and clearly and explain why you are there.
- Be polite, non-threatening, honest, and direct.
- Listen to them and do not pass judgement.
- Avoid verbal or physical confrontation.
- Let them talk about what their problem is.
- There is no need to make physical contact, except to prevent assault or suicide attempts.
- Encourage them to talk to a mental health professional or counsellor.
- Remember to seek healthcare yourself after any difficult experiences.
What are Some Difficulties Faced When Caring For Someone With a Mental Illness?
Whatever line of work you’re in, you’re likely to face challenges, but when it comes to volatile emotions, situations can escalate quickly.
They won’t get help – If your loved one or person you are caring for is severely affected by their illness, it may be difficult for them to recognise the symptoms, or they could be in such a rut that they can’t see a way out. Likewise, if they are experiencing an asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic period, they may not feel it’s worth seeking help at this time. You can prepare for this with them by making a list of the signs together and talk about them when you notice things changing. You can decide together how they would want you to help if they become unwell again.
They may act out of character – They may lash out or say things that can be upsetting, start expressing increased anger, or even start experiencing symptoms of paranoia. People tend to takenegative emotions out on those closest to them and this can be difficult to digest for those in the firing line. If this happens, remember they are dealing with difficult emotions and moods, try not to take it to heart, and express empathy. You may want to take some time out if you’re finding these emotions too difficult. Reach out to friends, family, or other carers for support.
Finding the help they need – The mental health system can be complex and you may find it difficult to access the services needed. Keeping communication lines open, doing research, persevering, and being honest and forward with information will help you to reach the right people in the right places to get the help required. Treatment comes in many different forms and they may have to try different methods or different therapists to experience positive changes.
Taking on the emotions of your patient – Caring for someone with a mental illness is more than helping them with day to day activities. Often, you may find their moods rubbing off on those around them, including you. It can be hard to stay positive when faced with so many mixed emotions. Make sure to take time for yourself to recharge by doing things you enjoy so you can perform at your best for yourself and your patient.
How Do You Approach Seeking Help
It’s hard to see people we care about going through difficult times or suffer with depression, anxiety or stress. It can be even more upsetting if a loved one is not willing to seek the help they need to get better, especially knowing it can make a big impact on their health. If you’re considering suggesting therapy to a loved one, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Make sure your suggestion is informed. Do your research and talk with them so you can make an informed suggestion for how to help them with their best interests in mind. If their symptoms have been triggered by trauma in their life, keep this in mind when deciding on the right type of help.
Make time and space to sit and talk about it seriously so they are aware of your concern for their health. Giving them options for treatment and focusing on potential positive outcomes might help to persuade them that it is the right route to take, but be open to their opinion and suggestions too as this will encourage them to be more comfortable with reaching a decision. Assure them that you will be with them along the journey however long it takes and that you support them whatever they decide.