Tag Archives: Family to Family

When You Have a Family Member With Mental Illness

I know my illness affects those around me.  I know that I have said and done things that have hurt my loved ones.  I am sorry for that.

Today, I saw a post on a site from a family member of someone with mental illness (no one related to me) that said something to the effect of, “What about the family members, we deal with them all the time, we have to suffer all the time!”

I actually had two reactions to this:

-In one way I was actually mad.  You deal with it! Think about me! I DEAL with it. I LIVE with it.  Think of what goes on in my head.  How much I struggle with it. Think about how much I hate to do the things I do and struggle to not do them and fight with myself and feel depressed and manic and suicidal and have no idea what is going on in my head a lot of the time. 

-And then, there was a part of me that agreed with their comment.  Yeah, they do have to deal with us.  They deal with our “drama” of our emotions and ups and downs and hospitalizations and medication changes and whatever else we might be going through. 

 

So what can family members do to help them when they are having a hard time with us? There are some things that family members can do to help them cope with having a family member with mental illness.  This will allow them to keep from the anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, and burnout that can occur from the caretaking and worrying of their loved ones.

1) Avoid placing blame – You cannot change anyone. You are not a magician.  Just be supportive of yourself and your loved one and look toward the good things.

2) Take time for yourself – set aside time each day for yourself.  Even if it is just 20 minutes that you can get away at first and slowly build up.  Practice meditation, read a book, get out in the sun, go for a walk, do something you love to do.  This will give you some time to relax.

3) Set limits (boundaries) – Learn to say “no.”  If your family members are asking to much of you, just say no.  Take care of yourself first. 

4) Educate yourself – Learn about the mental illness.  Sometimes it helps just to know about what is going on.  If we understand what the person is going through we are more empathetic about their situation and often get less frustrated when situations occur and know what to do during a crisis.

5) Find a support group – NAMI has a Family to Family Support Group where family members and friends of those with mental illness can come together for support. NAMI also has a Family to Family Course that is 10 weeks which helps educate on different mental illnesses. DBSA also allows family members to attend their support groups alongside those that are mentally ill, so it is a mixed support group.  There are also support groups for those with mental illness through both NAMI and DBSA that you can get your loved ones involved in as well if they are willing.

Importance of Support Groups

Today I “graduated” from the NAMI Connection Facilitator Training!  I officially can be a facilitator at my local NAMI meetings.  Why am I so excited about this?

Well, first off, NAMI has been an integral part of my recovery through mental illness.  I first found a NAMI Connection Group when I was in college and began having severe symptoms.  I was in nursing school and had heard of it during my psychiatric clinicals.  I was nervous to go as the meeting was held in the local hospital where I did my clinical and thought some of the nurses might recognize me.  I went anyway, and continued to go.  Meeting others that had similar diagnosis and faced similar problems in their day to day lives with me helped me tremendously.  I was able to relate to them and learn new coping skills.  I still struggled a lot and was in and out of hospitals, but they were there for me.  I had no family in Indiana and they really became like family to me – they were my support system as I did not really have one before joining NAMI.  After moving to Florida, I immediately began attending a NAMI group here.  The closest one to me was about 45 minutes away at first, but I went anyway.  I made such amazing friends.  Another one started closer, about 30 minutes away, so I went to that one too – but I could leave my friends from the other one, so I went to both.  And now a 3rd one is even closer, only 15-20 minutes away.  And I have trained to become a facilitator for that group, as I want to step up and grow within the organization which has helped me so much.

So, what exactly is NAMI?  NAMI is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  It is the largest mental health grassroots organization.  It has local affiliates all over the US and Puerto Rico.  There is most likely one in your area – and you can go to http://www.nami.org to find out if there is one.  They run all types of educational programs.  They have support groups for people with mental illness (NAMI Connection), support groups for family members of people with mental illness (Family to Family), educational classes for people with mental illness (Peer to Peer), educational classes for family members (also called Family to Family), educational class for parents of children with mental illness (NAMI Basics), and many other services depending on what your local chapter might also offer.

Support groups are important to our success when we are trying to recover with mental illness, whether it be through NAMI or another organization.  Whether we feel great or bad, attending them helps us.  It helps us focus on how to continue to focus on the positives, how to socialize and not isolate, how to help others which in turn makes us feel good, how to learn new coping skills, how to examine our own needs, and how to express ourselves in healthy ways.  Someone once told me, when you feel like you want to go to a meeting you should go, and when you feel like you don’t want to go to a meeting, you need to go.  They said this because generally, if you don’t want to go, that is when you really need to go – you are isolating or feeling depressed, and being around people and hearing the support they can give is what you most likely need.

I hope that if you are not already involved in a local support group, you find one and check it out.  There are many out there.  A few that I know of are DBSA (Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance), NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America.  Depending on your area, these organizations might or might not run groups or another organization might have groups too.