Just as living with a mental illness can be hard, family members of people with mental illness can face their own specific difficulties. Mental illness and addiction are complex issues that can cause the person you love to lose touch with reality and behave in ways that seem irrational or contrary to his best interests. Watching someone you love behave in such a way can be scary, confusing, and frustrating.
Knowing how to best respond to your loved one experiencing a mental health crisis may not come naturally. Without a sufficient understanding of mental illness or addiction, you might think that your loved one could behave differently “if she really wanted to” or that “everything would be better if he would just go back to church” or that “if I just explain why her anxiety is irrational enough times she will eventually understand and not be anxious anymore.” Unfortunately, beliefs like these can stress your relationship with your loved one when your support is most needed.
At Partner for Mental Health, we believe people are doing the best they can with what they have. We view our clients through this lens, and their family members, as well. Mental illness does not come with an instruction manual, either for the person experiencing it or his family members. We believe that just as people who have mental illness want to live their best and most healthy lives, though may not always know how, that family members want to support their loved one, but may not be adequately equipped to do so.
We are grateful for the work that the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) does toward supporting caregivers of people with mental illness. Locally, Blue Ridge NAMI offers support groups for family members and an intensive educational series for family members, called Family to Family. Together the NAMI support groups and Family to Family are great local resources that teach family members how to best support their loved one and how to take care of themselves.