If you have a loved one that’s in immediate danger, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
When a friend or family member develops a mental health condition, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Family members, friends, and caregivers (titles that will be used interchangeably throughout this blog to identify those taking care of their loved one) are crucial in helping and supporting the millions of people in the U.S. who experience mental health problems each year. Many family members and caregivers experience the same thoughts and questions you might be having now.
You may be helping a loved one who is not aware of their condition and be unwilling to seek help or you might just want to learn how to encourage someone who has recently been hospitalized. Either way, we acknowledge that mental health problems affect more than just the person experiencing them first-hand.
Foremost, you want to connect your friend or family member with the appropriate professional mental health resources. People often don’t get the mental health services they need because they don’t know where to start. It’s important to suggest that your loved one connect with their primary care physician about their mental problems. This will ensure that they are connected to the correct doctors. If they do not have access to a mental health professional, a complete list of mental health resources for different communities can be found here.
Helping a family member is difficult, even if you do everything “right.” No book, therapist or website can tell you how to prepare for the situations that may arise. It is also critical to provide understanding, non-judgmental support for your loved one. While this is not “your job” and can be very unnerving at times, your family member/friend needs your shoulder more than ever. Just a gentle reminder that they are not in this by themselves is all it takes. Remember: offering support does not imply control of any sort.
While no one wants to admit it, crisis’ do happen and it’s suggested by therapists that everyone has a crisis plan. If your loved one refuses to create a plan with you, you can always make one yourself. A crisis plan should include:
- Phone numbers for your loved one’s therapist, psychiatrist, and other healthcare providers
- Family members and friends who would be helpful, and local crisis line number
- Phone numbers of family members or friends who would be helpful in a crisis
- Local crisis line number
- Addresses of walk-in crisis centers or emergency rooms
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Local Crisis Centers (list can be found here)
- Your address and phone number(s)
- Your loved one’s diagnosis and medications
- Previous psychosis or suicide attempts
- History of drug use
- Things that have helped in the past
Taking Care of Yourself
This is one of the most obvious as well as overlooked parts of being a “caregiver” to a loved one. To be able to care for the one you love, you must first take care of yourself. Otherwise, you will often find yourself irritable with no energy to do the things you must survive yourself. We suggest understanding how stress affects you first (headaches, energy levels, insomnia, etc.) and protecting your physical health. This includes getting the correct amount of sleep, eating well, and making time for your hobbies. Next, you want to tend to your mental well-being as well. Avoid all emotions of guilt and celebrate the positives! Sometimes keeping a daily gratitude journal is the best way to do this!
Caregivers who pay attention to their own physical and emotional health are better able to handle the challenges of supporting someone with mental illness. They adapt to changes, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks. Knowing these things, how will you help your loved one today?
By: Taylor Trotta