I had some more thoughts on how a family member might best help their loved one who is suffering from a mental illness since I last wrote on the subject. These suggestions may apply more to a person who is having trouble knowing what is real (as in a psychotic disorder) than to maybe someone who is depressed, but some of these suggestions will apply across the board.
- Respect the person. This seems obvious...but it is very easy--especially in reference to a person who has trouble discerning reality--to be demeaning or to speak to them as though they were a child. While it IS important to speak clearly and usually in short sentences and to avoid long abstract conversations, it is equally important to realize that the patient is an adult; has feelings (whether or not they can disclose them to you acccurately); and can easily feel demeaned. It is also important to know that they feel horrible about their illness and the burden that it places on you, their loved ones; so don't make them feel worse!
- Do not allow this person to become your whole world and your only reason for being alive. While it may not be obvious to you how doing this would benefit your loved one; it is a HUGELY important factor in the happiness and wellbeing of the one for whom you are caring. If you fall for the temptation to have nothing else in your life -- no other interests, no other relationships, no time away, no other passions in life-- then you can easily become co-dependent and that kind of a relationship helps no one. If you become co-dependent, you will too easily feel insulted if a person, in a rage spawned by psychosis, says hurtful things to you; or even if they have "yet another" breakdown. You will take things way too personally and it will affect you way too powerfully, when they do not feel well or when they have negative feelings toward you which are merely symptoms of the illness. And if you get to this point, you will, unwittingly, place a heavy burden of responsibility on the person for whom you are caring by having too much depending on them maintaining a wellness that really is not in their power to maintain. If they have an exacerbation of symptoms, they will know, that they are hurting you way more than such a thing should, and this will lead to guilt, resentment, remorse, low self esteem on their part, and to depression, feelings of worthlessness and a sense of having no control over your life for you.
- Always maintain an awareness that the person who is ill, is suffering; that they did not choose to become ill; that they are doing the best that they can with a set of circumstances and symptoms that would be unmanageable for ANYONE...even for you, if you had that illness. Also be aware that on some level, even if it is not obvious to you, they are feeling a great burden of guilt and sadness for the difficulties into which they have unwittingly plunged their caregivers and family. Do not make this burden greater by your possibly insensitive comments. Do not discuss with them the burden or strain this has placed on your family financially as well. They are probably already aware of this, and do not need to have it reinforced.
- You should have a therapist, or at the very least, a good friend with whom you can discuss all of your feelings of frustration, pain, possibly resentment, fears, etc.. All these negative emotions should not be the added burden of the person who is ill. Believe me, they have way more negative feelings about themselves as a result of their illness than you could even imagine, and they do not need your surplus as well. Plus, you deserve to have someone listening to you who is able to respond to you with sympathy, empathy and who can maybe offer you some good advice on alternatives that maybe you'd overlooked or with ways of preserving your own sanity in the "insane" world that you and your loved one inhabit. Your loved one is not capable of offering you these things and you really need them, whether you think you do or not. RESIST the temptation to make one of your children your own sounding board and outlet. They are struggling with their own difficulties in dealing with the mental illness of their sibling or parent and are not able and SHOULD NOT HAVE TO bear yours as well.
- And lastly, fight the temptation of being sucked into the anger and even rage that can be directed at you during a psychotic episode. This is a like a tornado which will target anyone and anything in its path, and you can only end up feeling or being hurt by what may transpire. At such a time, you may need relief from the burdens of caregiving....in fact it may not even be SAFE for you to try to go it alone. Recognize when the person needs to be hospitalized or when you need some kind of respite services to help you care for your loved one. And please do not look at "yet another" hospitalization as a failure on the part of your loved one. These can be part and parcel of a mentally ill person's life...For someone with a psychotic disorder this is especially true. Do not burden your loved one with feelings of having let you down by needing to be in a safer place for a while.