Researchers estimate that while as many as one in five people will experience a mental health illness at some point in their life, five of five people will be affected by it.
We often talk about mental illness as something that only affects the person who is experiencing it. However, we often forget the other people who are affected by it - us. We may not experience a mental illness ourselves, but it is very likely that a family member, friend, or co-worker will experience difficulties related to the mental health illness. And, consequently, their experience of the mental health illness will affect us. No one's illness, whether physical or mental, affects only the individual and no one else.
Supporting Someone Else
There is no "one size fits all' model for supporting someone who has a mental health illness. How we care for someone will depend on us and the person we care for.
Except for knowing ourselves and the person we are caring for, it is important to get to know the mental health illness which the person is experiencing. This will help us to understand the diagnosis better and how it affects the person we care for. Not knowing how the illness functions can create misconceptions and prevent us from providing effective help. For instance, without knowledge about the mental health illness someone is experiencing, it can be difficult to grasp and appreciate the severity of symptoms, such as the terrifying thoughts associated with schizophrenia or the suicidal ideation with a depression. When we are not educated well about the mental health illness, it is not uncommon to wonder why the person just cannot snap out of it.
In regard to the latter, it is important to be aware that there is a lot of information on the internet. While some of it is accurate, some of it is incorrect. Therefore, we have to be sure that we are educating ourselves about the mental health illness from trusted sources of information and that we do not believe everything we read on the internet.
Once we find out that a person close to us is experiencing a mental health illness, it is not unusual to feel overwhelmed. Especially, when the person experiencing the mental health illness is someone who we deeply care for. At that time, we can feel a flurry of emotions. Guilt, shame, disbelief, fear, anger, and grief are all common reactions. It takes a lot of patience because the acceptance of these emotions does not come easily to us or to the person who is suffering from the mental health illness. Also, the patience will help us keep realistic expectations, given that the recovery process is not a straight line nor it happens quickly. Having unrealistic expectation can be detrimental, and sometimes can even lead to a relapse because recovery is not something that can be forced.
Furthermore, it is important to note that no matter how much we love someone, we will not be able to cure them. Therefore, we have to be aware that our role is not to cure them, rather be there for them and support them in their journey to get better. We can show our support to them by treating them with respect and dignity, not blaming them for their illness, providing them with emotional support and understanding, encouraging an open dialogue, actively listening to them, giving them hope, and helping them to get connected with various resources.
Overall, there are many things we can do in order to support a person who is experiencing a mental health illness, however, we all have our own limitations and we should be aware of them in order to keep our physical and mental health.
Who is Taking Care of Us?
When a person we care for experiences a mental health illness, caring for them can take a lot of our time and energy. Feeling overwhelmed is not unusual, and many people experience challenges and complicated mix of emotions. In the end, the latter starts to present a cause of significant stress in our lives, and long periods of stress can affect our physical and mental health.
In the process of caring for someone who is experiencing a mental health illness, it is easy to disregard our needs. However, it is extremely important that we become aware of this, and seek help if our well-being starts to slip.
And, sometimes, we will have to make sure that our whole family has appropriate supports in place. Mental health illness may have a big impact on the family and sometimes they will need to seek help in order to maintain healthy family relationships.
When someone is experiencing a mental health illness, and suffering from the great distress that comes with it, it is difficult to focus attention on ourselves without feeling selfish. However, it is important to note that our needs are extremely important, because, if we are not healthy, it will be difficult to help someone else regain health.
In order to keep our own well-being, it is important to talk to someone who can help us. A mental health professional, such as a therapist, will be able to help us accept the emotions we have been experiencing. Also, a therapist will be able to give us more information about the mental health illness and navigate us through the sea of invalid information.
Furthermore, given that caring for someone may use up our physical and emotional energy, it is very important to take time for ourselves. It is easy to lose ourselves in responsibilities and "burn out". Therefore, it is important that, from time to time, we recharge. This will give us more balanced perspective toward any challenges me might have been experiencing.
In the end, we also have to realize that we need support from others and that we should not isolate ourselves because of possible embarrassment, social stigma, and fear. We should share our thoughts and feelings with trusted friends and family, in order for them to know what we are experiencing and that they know how to support us. A good way to connect is support groups where we will able to share our experiences, learn from others, and connect with people who understand what are we going through.
In conclusion, in order to provide the best level of support to people we care for, it is important that we are taking care of ourselves. Therefore it is important to connect with ourselves, in order to evaluate our own well-being, as well as to connect with others in order to find appropriate supports for us and our loved ones.
Sometimes, we will find these supports in therapy, which has the power to provide us with more information, guide us, and teach us appropriate coping skills and mechanisms. And, sometimes, we will be able to find these supports in our close family and friends, our community, and in different support groups.
Smetanin, P., Stiff, D., Briante, C., Adair, C.E., Ahmad, S. and Khan, M. (2011). The Life and Economic Impact of Major Mental Illnesses in Canada: 2011 to 2041. RiskAnalytica, on behalf of the Mental Health Commission of Canada 2011.