HOW FAMILY MEMBERS CAN HELP PEOPLE
WITH HEALTH DISORDERS
Read a book
written by a person with the disorder you are interested in.
Usually it is hard for the mentally ill to explain what they
are feeling, but if you could understand, you would be a much
better ally. Those who have taken on the task of writing about
their illness usually do a good job of helping people understand
what it is like. Go to the disorder of interest to
you to find ideas on books to read.
Read a book
written by a professional that provides information on the disorder
you are interested in, so that you can understand the disease
better and know what to expect in the future. Go to the
disorder of interest to you to find ideas on books to read.
that mental health disorders cause changes in the behavior of
people. They may not be able to carry out their regular daily
tasks. They sometimes cannot care for themselves, let alone
others. If you are close to a person with a mental health disorder,
you may start to feel abandoned and left out yourself.
Attribute this to the disease, not to the person you love.
that what a person does during episodes of severe mental dysfunction
(manic or psychotic
episodes, for example) is beyond their control. The best strategy
is to prepare for these episodes by making decisions together
during episodes of stability: arrange to withhold credit cards,
car keys, and especially discuss when it is time to hospitalize
care of yourself:
disorders cause a great deal of pain and strain in the lives
of the family of the individual. Try to minimize its effect
on you by following the previous recommendations and practicing
good health habits yourself.
If you are
well, you are better able to be a supportive ally to your friend
or family member.
any threats of suicide. People with
mental health disorders may feel that suicide is the only way out of their pain.
Usually attempts are preceded by threats, even if they are mild. Don't
ignore any comments about death. Ask the person whether they are
contemplating suicide. If you think they are in danger, call a doctor.
what their needs are. People with mental health
disorders need to talk about their feelings. Be understanding and encourage them
to share with you, to learn about their condition, and to seek
Be a caregiver:
that many mental health disorders cause memory impairment and
problems with concentration. This may be a function of
the disorder or of the stress associated with having the disorder.
Remind them to take their medication, to go to appointments,
help them with their chores. They are not "ignoring"
their responsibilities, they are unable to function normally
because of the disorder.
Accept the reality of
If you are having difficulty accepting the fact
that your loved one has a mental health disorder, you are making it
difficult for that person to accept it.
If you do not acknowledge the disorder, you may
react with anger to the behavior of the person, instead of with
sympathy, which is what the person needs at this time.
Talk to other family members, even young
children. Help them understand what the condition is and what it
means for the life of the patient and the family. The patient will
need help and support from the entire family in order to thrive
despite the limitations imposed by the condition.
Join a support group, or ask the patient's
therapist for a few sessions of family therapy. Any of these can
help you learn to deal with the changes to come.
The best way to help a person
with a mental problem
is to remember that it is an illness. As such, it doesn't just go
away when someone wants it to or when it is becoming a nuisance.
As with other illnesses, it needs medical attention and attention
from family members. Most mental health disorders improve with changes
in behavior (exercise, good eating habits, relaxation, etc.); however,
these changes in behavior are more difficult for this person
than they are for any other person because of the nature of the
A study performed in London
with depressed people dramatically illustrated the importance of
the family. Psychotherapy alone with the depressed person and his
or her partner was more helpful than drugs alone! The study was
reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Most studies,
as you would expect, show that combining medication and psychotherapy
The following books may help
Sister from the Black Lagoon : A Novel of My Life by Laurie Anne Fox
Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope With Mental Illness by David Allen Karp
Madness Comes Home : Help and Hope for the Children, Siblings,
and Partners of the Mentally Ill by Victoria Secunda
Family Affair: Helping Families Cope With Mental Illness (Gap
Report, No 119) by Committee on Psychiatry and the Community
to Cope With Mental Illness in Your Family: A Self-Care Guide
for Siblings, Offspring, and Parents by Diane T. Marsh, Rex M. Dickens,
E. Fuller Torrey
Visit the following sites
on the web for for information for families:
Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Beacon of Hope (for partners)
Fallout (Depression and Bipolar Disorder)
(for families of people with Borderline Personality Disorder)