guest post by Bonnie McClure
This article was originally published in Psych Central's World of Psychology blog.
Read more about Bonnie on our Partners Page.
If you are a caregiver to someone who has a diagnosed mental disorder, you’ll need a strong grip on reality in order to support your loved one effectively and keep up with your own health. It is so easy to allow our own fears, stresses, and anxieties to further complicate an already difficult situation. But there are ways to proactively create a positive atmosphere for you and your loved one and to ensure you both get what you need.
Seek support for yourself. It’s a trite but effective cliché, the imagery of the flight attendant explaining how to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others, but it’s so true. Without caring properly for yourself, you are in no shape to help others. As a caregiver, it is common to put your own needs aside, because you may have more tolerance for delaying those needs at the time. But ultimately, it becomes a practice of discipline to prioritize your own needs, if you expect to continue caregiving effectively. There are support groups and online communities dedicated to caregivers of loved ones with mental disorders of all types. Find one that works for you.
Seek resources for your loved one. While in the throes of a crisis is not ideal timing to figure out the phone number and website of a mental health professional that can help your loved one. Proactively seeking a collection of resources and storing them all in an accessible format and location is your best bet for utilizing these resources. Establishing a relationship with these community professionals is an even better way to ensure that you can get help when it is needed. Mental health is such a complex and wide ranging field, not all services may apply to your loved one. Reach out to organizations that are local to you and ask them questions. While your situation is stable, not in crisis mode, cull yourself a list of steadfast options to take the guesswork out of crisis intervention and securing long-term support.
Stay with the program. If you find a program or treatment plan that is working for your loved one, help them stick with it. Diet fads and exercise trends are evidence enough to illustrate the human tendency of switching gears once something starts working. Once we begin to feel better, we are prone to believe we don’t need help anymore or we’ve got things under control. But in the world of mental health, this can be a major pitfall. It doesn’t mean that the current treatment has to go on forever, or that your loved one is dependent on his or her therapy or even medication. But it does mean resisting the urge to jump ship at the first sign of success. When it comes to recovery and stability, the more positive time you can bank will ensure long-term success.
Set boundaries… and adhere to them. Healthy, consistent boundaries are an essential part of building trust in any relationship. The caregiving relationship is no different and is often multi-layered. The relational dynamics between loved ones can sometimes be emotionally charged and full of personal experiences that influence the behavior and choices of both parties. If you are also dealing with a mental disorder for one or both of you on top of that, your interpersonal dynamic can get very complicated, very quickly. If healthy boundaries can be set proactively with mutual understanding, the chances of an overly emotional conflict go way down. This part also goes back to taking care of you, as the caregiver. If you do not maintain a firm hold on where your boundaries lie, it is going to be more difficult for you to help your loved one make progress.
Document your journey. Not only can it be a helpful way to express feelings you may be experiencing as you go along this journey with your loved one, but documenting your experience can also be a helpful tool to give you some objectivity. If you are helping your loved one with medication treatment, for example, document a baseline for the effectiveness of the medication they are taking day to day. Being able to look back at the data collected over time will help make future decisions that are grounded in objective information, not just based on emotional, subjective memory.
Do not try to rationalize the irrational. Caring for a loved one with a mental disorder means sometimes things just are not going to make sense – and that is okay. You could spend all your energy, stress, and worry trying to pinpoint what triggered the most recent episode, or figure out your loved one's thought process when they reacted unpredictably. But the fact remains that even with a positive support network and successful treatment plan, there may still be good days and bad days, just as we all have. What is important is maintaining a positive focus on what is working and moving forward.
Way for Hope
Losing someone you love is difficult, but it can mean a lot to hear from others traveling similar paths.
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Links of Value:
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Word of God
"My Story" Big Daddy Weave
"Hope in Front of Me"
The Joy FM
Traumatic loss or preexisting conditions can worsen mental health. Use this info graphic to find help.
"Take Charge of Your Mental Health" - a free download from www.nami.org: