By Dr. Donna Ferguson, Psychologist with the WSIB Psychological Trauma Program
Dealing with mental illness is difficult for the individual diagnosed with a disorder. However, it can also be tough for those around the individual such as friends, and particularly, family members. While it’s absolutely important for the individual to be focused on their recovery, we often don’t think about the impact it can also have on family members.
Stigma associated with mental illness
The stigma around mental illness makes it difficult at times for people to acknowledge and even discuss their mental illness. This can be hard for families who are trying to support the individual with the diagnosis. Trying to deal with the stigma that stems from the diagnosis can take away from the individual and family members dealing with the diagnosis. This is why education about mental illness is important. Frustration and friction between family members often stems from misunderstanding the nature of mental illness. Learning how to provide effective and compassionate support to a loved one who is struggling requires knowledge of what they are going through, both from a biological and a psychological perspective. Open communication is important.
Families can also face difficulties
Families may encounter a great deal of stress, confusion, self-blame, and shame when they have a loved one diagnosed with a mental disorder. It is important to know that mental illnesses can be caused by many different factors including environment and genetics.
The issue of blame goes both ways, and families also have to recognize that blaming the individual for their condition is unacceptable, and can create further complications. It is important to understand how to support and help the individual diagnosed with the disorder rather than focusing on blame and shame.
Effective Solutions for Families and Clients
Families need a lot of guidance in order to be able to provide support to their loved ones. There are support groups for families that can be helpful. Education also should be provided to clients and families to help them understand mental illness and how it can impact the individual, to help to make it easier to support their loved one. There is hope for both the individual suffering and for the family. It is important for them to know that they are not alone and that there are others that are going through similar struggles, which is why support groups, whether online or in person, can be helpful.
Loved ones can play a big part in helping a person recover, work towards their goals, and stay well. Emotional support can assist in recovery and well-being. Even helping with everyday practical things such as managing medical appointments can be helpful. Family members can also help to observe their loved one’s mood, behavior and self-care to monitor if the individual’s mental health might be worsening. Just being there to offer a listening ear and support can also be helpful.
Mental illness affects a significant proportion of the population, and 1 in 5 Canadians will be affected in their lifetime. Knowing the odds, it’s important that everyone is educated about mental health – not just for themselves, but for their family members, friends and loved ones. Loving support, patience and understanding goes a long way in ensuring recovery.
Have a safe and happy Family Day!