Mental illness is not only distressing for the person who’s experiencing it, but for family and friends who care about them too. Being able to come together to care for the individual with a mental illness (and one another) can help to support their recovery.
Ask what you can do to help
It’s ideal that you decide with your loved one and their partner what support and involvement would be most useful for them.
When a friend or family member has a mental illness it can be difficult to make sense of what is happening for them. It is common for people around them not to understand their experiences and sometimes to criticise, blame and judge them if they are acting in a way that they don’t expect. At other times, friends and family can become over-involved (with good intentions), seeing it as their responsibility to make the person better.
Letting your loved one know that you are there and offering support will be important to them. It might take time for them to talk about their experiences and accept help, but knowing that you’re there can help them make this step.
Don't take over
People experiencing mental illness often talk about losing control over their lives and feeling powerless. Supporting your loved one to maintain control over their life, make their own choices and involving them in family decision-making will help their recovery.
There may be times, however, when your loved one is unwell and you question their capacity to make decisions. This should be discussed with your loved one sensitively and with empathy and with support from a health professional where appropriate.
It is not uncommon for friends and family to think that their loved one is being ‘lazy’ or ‘moody’ when in fact their behaviour changes are a symptom of mental illness. Expressing criticism to your loved one can make symptoms worse and will impact on your relationship.
Family and friends often direct blame and criticize themselves as well, believing that they are somehow responsible for causing mental illness or for not getting help soon enough. Remember, you are not to blame if your loved one has a mental illness – many factors combine to cause someone to experience a mental illness.
Have realistic expectations
Remember that recovery from mental illness takes time and it is not uncommon for there to be a few setbacks along the way. Be patient with your loved one and help to keep them hopeful. With the right treatment and support they can have a fulfilling and meaningful life.