Tips for Family Members Caring for Someone Living With a Mental Health Condition
"It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words 'DON'T PANIC' in large, friendly letters on the cover."
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams
It's said that Arthur C. Clarke stated that Douglas Adams’ use of “Don't Panic” was perhaps the best advice that could be given to humanity.
And don’t I know it.
Now I know I’m normally a writer about my own condition, but my biggest struggle that I’ve ever faced was helping my wife through her battle with her own mental illness. Tough is an understatement; it was like hell for both of us. I felt useless and helpless, she felt guilty and like a burden; furthering her depression. It was an endless cycle.
But since learning a few things the hard way, things have picked up amazingly, and although my wife still suffers from her illness, we're both thriving and in a better situation than we ever have been before. So here are a few important lessons I learned along the way:
Panicking is one of the worst things you can do in a situation, let alone in what the medical world refers to as a mental crisis situation. When your loved one is facing a crisis, whether a melt down or suicidal, the last thing you should do is panic. Remain as calm as you can and remember that it's a medical situation like any other medical situation. Call emergency services (000,911,999 depending on country) and let the paramedics and hospital staff do their job. Which leads to my second tip.
Trust medical professionals.
It may sound like a given, but it's harder than it sounds. You’ll get to the point that you're sick of the to and fro of medical jargon and the constant re-diagnoses and the competitiveness of different doctors vying to be the one to create the best treatment plan for your loved one. Despite all this at some point, someone will hit the nail on the head, and appropriate treatment will follow. You may need to fight your better instincts to let the doctors do their thing, but it's better to let them do their job and support your loved one emotionally while they do so.
It's no one's fault.
This is such a tough lesson to learn. At some point, you may find yourself blaming yourself or someone else for your loved one being unwell. In most cases, however, their illness is not due to the actions of anybody, and it is, like many other illnesses. Mental illness needs to be treated just like that, an illness. You don't blame yourself for your loved one's diabetes, or Crohn's disease, or blindness for that matter. It's unfair, and hard to understand, but it's just an illness. There's no need to pass blame in any way; it will only make your loved one feel worse about their illness and how they affect you because of it.
Never, ever give up.
This may also sound like obvious advice, but in some situations giving up can seem like the only option (emotionally) because of the strain your loved one's illness can put on yourself and everyone around you. With the current stigma of mental illnesses, your loved one's condition can become something that can cause issues socially and becomes very tricky to navigate amongst the subtleties of human social interaction. Some people understand, but others do not. You may end up with a “well, damn them all” mentality when it comes to those who are/were friends who don't understand the situation - but it's no reason to get angry or shut people out. Most people have no experience in the area and often opening up can be a great way to not only educate them a little better but to get yourself some support too.
Of course, there are the odd exceptions where people have such a deeply ingrained sense of demonization against mental illness, and sometimes it's best to let these particular people go as they will be the major cause of pressure on your relationship with your loved one. The key regardless of how people view you, your loved one or your family is never to give up. Don't give up fighting the stigma. Don't give up hope on your loved one. I have first-hand experience going from hell and back with my wife's condition, and I can promise you that not giving up not only pays off in the end but there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope that things will be better. Things are better for us now than they ever were because I never gave up.
That's honestly the best advice I can give: Don't panic, trust medical professionals, it's no one's fault and never give up. It may not make sense today, it may be an incredible struggle right now, but one-day things will be better, and that's what we all need to focus on if we want things better.
Written by Luke Tumelty.