NINE lessons for caregivers
You did not cause the illness, and you cannot make it go away.
However, if you focus on recovery, there's always hope.
The suggestions below were adapted from "Support for Families" by the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.
1. BE PATIENT
Receiving a mental health diagnosis can be very traumatic. Many people will refuse to acknowledge they are ill, a condition known as anosognosia. Try not to be angry or impatient. Instead support the person in accepting their illness and treatment.
2. LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
The more you know about your loved one’s mental health condition, the better equipped you will be understand and cope with the illness. Share what you learn with family and friends to help them understand what is going on.
3. ENCOURAGE COMPLIANCE
This is one of the keys to getting and staying well. Without the proper medications, living with mental illness can be a roller coaster ride. If your loved one does not appear to be improving or is having significant side effects, encourage them to speak to their doctor.
4. KEEP A RECORD
Families are often the first to notice early symptoms, changes in mood and sleep patterns and medication effectiveness. Keep a journal of these observations, along with dates and times, that can be shared with your loved one’s health care provider.
5. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Behaviours not in keeping with your loved one’s normal personality are often a consequence of their illness and not intentional. While these actions and comments can hurt, try not to take them personally.
6. PLAN AHEAD
When your loved one’s doing well, discuss how they would like you to respond if you see symptoms emerge. Getting advance approval to give them feedback on their behaviours and permission to contact their doctor or take them to the hospital can help to avoid future resentment.
7. RECOVERY TAKES TIME
If someone you loved suffered a serious heart attack, you wouldn’t expect them to pull up their socks and get back to work or school. A serious mental health episode — a brain attack — can be every bit as disabling. It takes time to recover. Excessive demands, criticism and impatience can actually slow recovery.
8. LEARN THE SIGNS OF SUICIDE
Suicide is a very serious risk for people with a mental health condition. If your loved one discusses suicide frequently, expresses feelings of worthlessness or guilt, begins to give away possessions and/or has a suicide plan, call 911 or take them to the emergency department of the hospital right away.
9. CARE FOR YOURSELF
Caring for your loved one requires that you learn to care for yourself. There will be limits to what you can do. So ask for help from others to lighten the load. And let some tasks go. By pacing yourself, you will have the energy you need during important periods of crisis. It can be hard, but make sure you do fun things. Take holidays. Celebrate your friendships and family.