When someone has a mental health condition, support from family can make a big difference. However, it may be hard for us as family members to know what approach is best. It's particularly difficult to balance showing support with caring for our own health and encouraging others to be responsible for their actions.
Even if your loved one isn't in a moment of crisis, you need to provide support. Let them know that he or she can talk with you about what they are going through. Make sure that you are actively and openly listening to the things they say. Instead of arguing with any negative statements that they make, try providing positive reinforcement. Active listening techniques such as reflecting feelings and summarizing thoughts can help your loved one feel heard and validated. Furthermore, reassuring your loved one that you are concerned for their well-being will encourage them to lean on you for support.
No one wants to worry about the possibility of a crisis, but they do happen. That doesn't mean you have to feel powerless. Many healthcare providers require patients to create a crisis plan, and may suggest that it be shared with friends and family. Ask your loved one if they have developed a plan.
Go over the plan with your loved one, and if they are comfortable doing so, with their doctor. Keep copies in several places. Store a copy in a drawer in your kitchen, your glove compartment, on your smartphone, your bedside table, or in your wallet. Also, keep a copy in a room in your home that has a lock and a phone.
NAMI Jacksonville offers free and safe support groups for those with mental health disorders, their family, friends, and caregivers. Support groups are available throughout Northeast Florida, and run on a reliable recurring basis. If you are curious to attend a support group, you are welcome to do so at your convenience without commitmentLearn More
While it is your responsibility to care for and support your child, it is also your responsibility to take care of yourself. You may have to adjust your priorities or your lifestyle, but you should avoid letting the challenges posed by your child’s mental health condition make you neglect other important parts of your life.
In some cases, the stress of raising a child with a mental illness can contribute to the experience of mental health challenges by a parent. If you begin to feel that you are struggling with sadness or anxiety, do not hesitate to seek treatment for yourself. Caring for your own mental well-being will serve as a model for your child to follow, and ensure that you are healthy and able to care for your child.
Remember that if you have other children, they may resent being pushed to the side if all the attention is placed on their sibling’s mental health challenges. Make sure that they understand what their sibling is going through, and that you spend time with each of them. Keeping a happy and balanced family can be very helpful in reducing stress levels for everyone, which can help alleviate symptoms of mental illness.
If you live with a partner or spouse, or have other children, try to get them involved in being an advocate for your child. You may find that you deal with challenges and obstacles differently than them, but you should find ways to combine strengths to overcome any weaknesses. Be ready to compromise, listen and be open to new ideas.
It is possible you may discover that some members of your family have little interest in supporting you and your child in dealing with challenges posed by your child’s mental health condition. It is also possible that a spouse or significant other may be a negative influence on your child. They may demand discipline for behaviors your child cannot control, deny that there is anything wrong or insist upon an irrational course of action.
Helping to raise a child who has a mental health condition can be stressful, and it is unrealistic to assume that anyone, yourself included, will always react in an ideal way. However, you must also realize that it is your responsibility to protect your child, even from others that you care about.
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 may help to think of this experience as a learning process. Every person with a mental health condition experiences it slightly differently. One person may fear losing a job, while another may be more worried about how relationships will change. If you ask questions and listen to the answers, you can learn about your family member's unique concerns.
You can also acquire better skills for offering support, as you learn what works well in your family and what doesn't. If you come from a family that's uncomfortable talking about mental illness or emotions, remember you have the ability to improve your communication. Similarly, even if you feel like you don't know how to offer encouragement right now, you can develop and improve through practice.
We can support and encourage our family members. We can't, however, make their treatment decisions for them. We should offer suggestions and input, but be ready to accept and support their decisions.
They may not choose the treatment options that we would prefer, but by acknowledging their right to decide, we create a respectful, healing environment within the family. We improve their immediate quality of life by treating them with dignity. We're also encouraging them to commit to their chosen course of action.
The reality is that we can only control our own actions. We have to learn to give the people around us responsibility for decisions that only they can make. It's ultimately up to them to decide on their goals and strategies. You can encourage your family members, but you must let go of the feeling that you have to solve their problems for them.
Even when we know someone has a mental health condition, it can be hard to recognize his or her efforts to be well. Sometimes we wonder if a family member is "trying to be difficult." We may find ourselves looking for something to blame: should we blame our family member or the mental health condition itself. In general, we should try to give family the benefit of the doubt. Remember that no one chooses to experience these symptoms.
The mission of NAMI Jacksonville is to support and improve the quality of life for family members and those living with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance abuse through compassion, education, and advocacy.
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