Taking care of someone with a mental illness is a very difficult and stressful job. It can cause many problems, and over time, it may take a toll on you, as well as your loved one. Your health, relationships and job may suffer. Your actions and reactions during these stressful times can also influence the individual who is being cared for.
As a parent or family member of a person with a serious mental health problem, you may go through several stages of grief, just as if someone had died. However, friends and neighbours might not offer the support you need. As a result, you may experience pain, shame and loneliness.
Things to Seriously Consider
Get Social Support
- Join a self-help group
- Keep friendships alive
- Do not put your life on hold
- Stay connected with others
Don’t shut yourself away. Get out with others. Laughter is a good medicine!
Getting support from others who share your problem will also help. Find out if one of these well-known organizations has a support group near you:
Mental illness is generally not something that one recovers from overnight. Consider the needs of your loved one, but don’t wait for him or her to get better before you get on with living your own life. Keep as many of your routines as possible.
- Get help as early as possible
- Seek out community services
- Understand the illness
Knowing what you’re dealing with and where to get help will help you reduce feelings of stress. The sooner you get help, the better the chance of positive outcomes for everyone. So don’t put it off.
Information is available from many sources. Research in mental illness is changing all the time, so go to the library and look for a book that is not more than five years old. The Last Taboo, by Scott Simmie and Julia Nunes, is a great book that tells the story of mental illness from the perspective of both an individual with mental illness and a family member. It’s available at your local bookstore, or online at www.penguinandrandomhouse.com.
Other sources of information are hospitals, your family doctor, or your local Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA): www.cmha.ca. Or call the Mental Health Services Information Line at 1-866-531-2600.
Acknowledge your own emotional pain.
- Identify your emotions
- Discuss your emotions openly
- Allow yourself to grieve
You may feel guilty about what is happening or about decisions you have made (such as asking your relative to move). Various losses can cause feelings of grief: loss of dreams for your child, the lifestyle you shared with your partner or the personality you once loved.
Accepting and talking about your anger, guilt and sadness can help. Seek out family members or close friends you can trust. Join a mutual aid support group. Go for counselling yourself or express your feelings in a journal.
Pay attention to your own health.
- Have regular medical check-ups
- Find stress-reducing activities
- Get plenty of sleep, good food and exercise
Now, more than ever, you need to take care of basics. Looking after yourself also sets a good example for your loved one. You cannot be of help to your loved one if you are so run down that you are unable to cope.
Being stressed can cause you to react in ways that will make things worse for your family. Believe it or not, staying stressed is a choice.
Taking deep breaths when stressed sends a calming message to your nervous system. If you’d like to learn to do deep breathing or to meditate, you can join a mindfulness group, take a yoga class or buy a book and teach yourself.
There are many other ways you can reduce the effects of stress. Take up a new sport, or get back into a sport you love. Get outside: go for walks, go camping or sit on the beach. Make sure to eat a balance of healthy foods. Try following Canada’s Food Guide.
Find meaning in life.
- Reflect on spiritual matters
People have a natural hunger to find meaning in their lives. Find a way to connect to a larger purpose. One of these ideas might work for you:
Pray. Find a faith community (look in the phone book or newspaper for information). Volunteer in similar programs to the ones that your loved one is attending (e.g., CMHA or hospital). Become an advocate. Share your expertise with new caregivers.
If you’d like to educate youth on mental fitness, TAMI (Talking about Mental Illness) can train you to share your story in schools.