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Tips for family members living with a loved one dealing with mental health challenges

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Living with a loved one with mental health challenges can be scary, difficult, and overwhelming, especially if your loved one has serious mental illnesses such as "schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder..etc." (1).

People with mental health challenges usually reject receiving support or seeking counselling services from professionals because they do not think they need them or are unaware that they have mental illnesses. Another main reason is that they are worried that they will be discriminated against by their friends, family, partner, and strangers if others know about their illnesses. They are scared that they will seem different from others when they get diagnosed.

However, research shows that family support is a key to the recovery process for your loved one with mental health challenges. Family members can play a significant role in watching for signs and symptoms and getting support for their loved ones. If your loved one accepts receiving counselling support, family members can also help during the counselling process.

When should I help?

When you notice signs of mental illnesses in your family members, it is time to help. Getting help as early as possible will make the curing process much easier.

You should help your loved ones when:

  • They seem to be angry or sad for more than 2 weeks

  • They suddenly lost interest in the hobbies or activities they enjoyed

  • They told you that they sometimes hear strange voices or have unsettling thoughts

  • They suddenly eat a lot more or less

  • They withdraw from social interactions, such as talking to family members and friends

  • Their performance at work/school deteriorates

  • Their sleeping patterns change

  • They seem to be anxious, nervous, and terrified by things that seem normal to you

  • They become heavily addicted or obsessed with something like alcohol, drugs, water, dolls.. etc.

  • They told you that they feel hopeless

Take Actions/What should I do to help my loved one with mental illnesses?

  1. Don't pretend you know what they are going through

  2. Get educated about mental health illnesses

  3. Use the "I" statements to talk to them

  4. Practice your patience

  5. Be a caring partner and be a strong parent

  6. Taking care of yourself

  7. Help them to seek support and address any potential barriers

  8. Build a toolbox for potential crisis

1. Don't pretend you know what they are going through

When you notice that your loved ones have signs of mental illnesses, please do not take action to help them right away without research, because if they receive inappropriate care, the situation can become severe. Even if you are a trained Registered Clinical Counsellor, your responsibility should be only to provide support and love to them as a parent, partner, child, or sibling. Complex relationships and unhealthy power between you and your loved ones will not work out in the long term. Therefore, don't pretend you know what they are going through and don't try to be their therapist.

2. Get educated about mental illnesses

Before you try offering help to them, it is important to know what mental illness they are suffering from to ensure proper care. You can go online to search for the signs and symptoms and possible treatment and care of the specific illness. Better than searching online is to seek out a professional. Registered clinical counsellors at Nuway are trained in mental illnesses and can help you identify your concerns. The more you know about mental illness, the better you can support your loved ones.

3. Use the "I" statements to talk to them

People with mental challenges can get anxious and angry easily when they hear something that can make them unhappy, especially when they reject help from a professional. How should I talk to them? You can use "I" statements to show your concern, love and care for them, instead of using "You should..." or "You can't..."

Examples of some "I" statements are "I am really concerned about you", "I am always here for you", and "I can listen to your concerns if you want to talk about it with me".

4. Practice your patience

Taking care of a loved one with chronic mental illness needs a lot of patience. You need to persistently show your care and support to them even if they get mad or upset at you under the influence of symptoms. Patience is a significant element you should keep and practice during the process of providing support. Practicing Mindfulness and Self-care can help maintain your patience effectively.

5. If you are a parent/partner of your loved ones

How can a parent support the child? Parents will particularly worry about their children with mental illnesses. You should maintain good health while taking care of the child long-term. Try to educate yourself about your child's mental health condition, how to cope with your child's condition, and manage their recovery by seeking help from a professional. You need to make sure you listen to your child and believe your child when they talk about their symptoms. You can also check in with the school to make sure your child is receiving appropriate care and services because a child with mental illness can struggle at school if they do not have assistance. Finding support from therapists will ensure appropriate treatments for your child, and you are key in letting the therapist know the previous and current situation and filling in the information that your child might not be able to describe on their own.

Relationships can become challenging when your partner is diagnosed with a mental illness. If you are a partner of your loved one with mental illness, you can show your care and love by using the "I" statements. Your expectations of your partner need to be lowered because she/he is ill, or else, the relationship is not going to work. Make sure you listen to your partner's concerns and ask what you can do to help. You can also have a conversation with your loved one about what will, and will not, work out under the influence of the illness before conflicts happen. You can encourage your partner to see a counsellor or psychologist but not force them to. If your loved one is willing to accept counselling services, you can help remind them to do counselling homework consistently, make appointments, and attend the appointments on time. However, you need to respect your loved one's privacy even if you are the one helping them to make appointments.

6. Taking care of yourself

Taking care of a loved one with a chronic mental disorder needs a lot of time and energy, and it can be overwhelming. You need to maintain good physical and mental health in the long term in order to provide the best support to your loved one. You can try out self-care mentioned in another blog - What can I do with Depression? to ensure your needs are being met:

  • Take time to do the hobbies and activities you enjoy

  • Spend time with your other family members and friends

  • Seek help from professionals if you need

  • Write down your feelings and thoughts

  • Listen to soothing music

  • Make sure you get enough sleep and eat nutritious foods

7. Help them to seek support and address any potential barriers

If your loved one is really sick and is not able to seek support for themselves, you can help them to look for a psychotherapist that best fits their needs. Since you are the closest person to your loved one, you will be able to help them pick a therapist based on their preferences in languages, specialties, gender, and age of the therapist. You can also help them to address potential barriers such as booking appointments and filling out intake forms that might prevent them from seeking support. Addressing barriers is one way of encouraging them to look for help, especially when they do not really want to.

Financial problems are one of the biggest barriers for people accessing counselling services. Nuway provides affordable counselling services, such as monthly subscription plans that allow you to book unlimited in-person/online sessions with our Master-level student therapists. Click Plans & Pricing if you would like to learn more. Services at Nuway are all claimable as long as your insurance plan provides the coverage. Here is where you can find the steps to check your insurance coverage: Can you do direct billing? Book a session with a counsellor today to help your loved one out.

8. Build a toolbox for potential crisis

It is a good idea to prepare yourself for a crisis that might happen to your loved one before it actually happens. You can build a toolbox with various support or helplines for emergencies and daily maintenance. Here are the resources that you might collect and put into your toolbox:

  • Call 9-1-1 for emergencies

  • The nearest hospitals: Burnaby Hospital, Vancouver General Hospital, Richmond Hospital, Surrey Memorial Hospital, BC Children's Hospital

  • Crisis line call 310-6789 do not add area code (e.g. 604,778 or 250)

  • Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division call 1-800-555-8222

  • HealthLink BC call 811 for free and non-emergency health information

  • Family Support Groups for Schizophrenia: Family Support Groups - BC Schizophrenia Society

  • Chinese Support Group for family members: 604-276-8834 with ext. 215

  • Free online courses for family members register with 778-836-1886

  • Supports for children and youth (Tel.: 416 248-2050)

  • See a counsellor at Nuway Counselling: counsellors at Nuway are well educated to help you to overcome different mental illnesses using therapies that are designed for you and your loved ones. Help your loved one to seek support from a therapist now.


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