Living with Someone Who is Mentally Ill – How to Keep Your Chin Up
Caring for someone who is mentally ill can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task, or take away your own identity either. Often, with your help and that of others, such as a therapist, someone with a mental illness can pull themselves out of their darkest places. If they stay on track, then managing a mental illness day to day becomes much easier for both patient and caregiver.
Sometimes that is not the case. Clinical depression, or bipolar depression, can sometimes run so deep, for so long, that much more caretaking is involved, and the caretaker can get sucked into the process, becoming depressed themselves. Other mental illnesses may be accompanied by sudden, unanticipated and sometimes violent outbursts that can scare everyone involved, making them live in fear of when the next outburst may come and what might happen.
Mental illness is often a chronic disease, and there can be a slow road towards finding the right mix of therapy and medication to bring someone to a stable situation, that must then be monitored for life. But it is not fatal, and if a patient can maintain stability, your life need not be one of walking on eggshells.
What You Can Do
If someone you love is mentally ill, and the task of caretaking has fallen to you, it is by no means an unmanageable situation. But it does take vigilance, and a certain amount of knowledge in learning how to anticipate an episode and bring it to a halt before it can get out of control.
The best thing you can do is educate yourself about the type of mental illness your loved one is living with. Get to know the doctor, or doctors, who will be managing your loved one’s illness. The more information that you can absorb, the better you will understand the process and be able to jump in when a crisis erupts.
Day by day, try to keep a positive, non-judgmental attitude about the situation. This can help a person focus on improving their health, rather than dealing with feelings of guilt about what you may be going through because of their illness.
Help your loved one develop and follow routines, such as establishing regular sleeping and eating patterns. This can make other tasks, like getting ready for school, or just getting up to face the day much more manageable for both of you.
Support and accept what the person can do. Praise improvements, however small. When you are critical or overprotective, your loved one may feel frightened.
Help focus the person’s energy on activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, and dancing. Activity may calm the person down and give a sense of success.
What About Your Own Life?
Caring for someone with a mental illness can take a lot of energy and create a lot of stress, causing overwhelm and even caregiver burnout. You need to make sure that you take care of yourself, and feel like you have an independent life from that of caregiver.
- Look around in your area for a support group. Sharing stories with other people who are facing the same challenges you are can help you better cope with your situation and its impact on your life.
- Schedule time for yourself, every day, to relax. Don’t feel guilty when you find yourself beginning to resent your life arrangement. Accept your feelings, and look for ways to maintain a balance in your own life.
- Every once in a while, take time to get out by yourself and go to the gym, the movies or out to lunch with a friend. In this way, you can maintain your independence as a person in your own right, not just someone’s caretaker.
- Make sure that you don’t neglect your own healthcare. Go to the doctor and dentist regularly and make sure your own prescriptions get filled on time, too. As a caregiver, you need to stay as strong and healthy as possible.
Most importantly, don’t let yourself fall into the same boat as your loved one, where then you both need help. Making sure you keep yourself physically and mentally stable will put you in the best position to help your loved when they need it.