In the U.S. as many as 1 in 4 people live with a mental illness. For every person diagnosed there are family members and friends who are part of the journey. Caring for someone with a chronic illness is difficult; it is especially difficult when the illness is mental or addictive in nature.
The support of someone who cares can be crucial for the person living with mental illness. Here are some tips to help you cope and be supportive:
Be informed – Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s diagnosis from a reputable source. Both the National Institute of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have reliable, in-depth information. Remember that all illnesses fall on a continuum – one person’s depression, bipolar, or personality disorder will not be the same as another’s.
Reach out for support – It’s easy to feel like you are facing these illnesses alone. A supportive organization can connect you with others that are coping with similar circumstances. Consider trying two or more meetings before deciding if a particular support group is helpful for you.
Take care of yourself – It’s important to focus on caring for yourself. No one can be supportive to another if they are not supporting their own health and well-being. Remember to engage in activities that keep you healthy. You are not being selfish when you care for yourself; you are replenishing your energy to be supportive. You are maintaining good boundaries.
Focus on recovery – While mental illness and addiction are chronic diseases, recovery is possible. People do get better and learn to live healthier lives. While you can’t do the work of recovery for your loved one, you can support them as they do what they can to get better. Remember: relapse is often part of chronic illness but it doesn't mean recovery is impossible.
Consider therapy for yourself – It’s common for caregivers to struggle with their own depression or anxiety. Finding a qualified therapist who listens to your concerns can be vital. It’s not a sign of weakness to get help. Remember it’s best to be proactive rather than waiting until you are in crisis.