October 20, 2014

How to Work with a Loved One with Mental Illness.

mentally ill man

Warning: f-bombs ahead. 

Mental illness affects everybody during their lives, either directly or indirectly.

In fact, mental disorders are so prevalent in our society that almost half of all people will experience some form of mental illness once in their life. In addition, in any given year, around a fifth of the western population has a mental disorder of some type.

Mental health issues can include anxiety (general, social, phobia), mood (depression, bipolar), psychotic (schizophrenia), eating (anorexia, bulimia), dissociative (split, multiple), impulse/addiction (substance abuse, pyromania), and personality (antisocial, obsessive-compulsive, borderline) disorders. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is also common in our society.

Depending on the condition, there are various treatments available. If you believe you are personally experiencing one of these disorders, or know someone that is, and there is no treatment being administered, please see your doctor or psychiatrist for professional treatment advice.

Generally, mental illness can be at least managed if not completely overcome.

Medication in and of itself is not a one-stop-fix-it-shop; it is a tool that can be successfully utilized to assist in the biochemical balancing required to effectively treat the condition. Essentially, its combination with effective psychotherapy can achieve a permanent result when treating mental illness.

Psychotherapy includes analyzing thoughts and feelings to facilitate a better understanding of them, which can result in rewiring parts of the neural network with new, more functional pathways. It can also mean addressing past traumas in an effective way, such as attaching new emotions to the memories, as well as delving into the subconscious mind to identify some of the fundamental dysfunction which can drive the development of a mental illness.

Fostering a strong philosophical foundation is also paramount to preventing mental disorders from reoccurring later in life. For example, our beliefs around why we should be happy, stress-free and at peace can be instrumental in preventing and curing some mental health issues.

Another potential co-treatment for mental illness is meditation.

It is advocated by countless individuals and many scientific studies that it helps to not just alleviate the symptoms of disorders such as anxiety and depression, but also can assist in curing them, especially when used in conjunction with other conventional treatments. Once again though, please seek professional advice for any treatment you may need.

The causes of mental illnesses are varied and hard to identify. Even though with some of these conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar, it may be genetically linked, it is not the sole determining factor for its manifestation. Epigenetic factors are at play as are self-esteem issues, emotional dysfunction, substance abuse, an existential crisis, trauma, physical ill-health, hormonal changes etc. These can all potentially contribute to the development of a disorder in any person in our society.

No one is immune.

sad woman stockings

Mental disorders such as anxiety and depression can also be learned. If a dysfunctional processing of life’s experiences are modeled, particularly those events which are challenging and traumatic, then it has the potential to be adopted from the parents and carers by children and then manifest early in their life or even later in their adulthood.

In other words, being stressed around your kids is not good for their mental health. But we knew that right?

No matter the source of these conditions, not only do they significantly impact the lives of those experiencing it, but they also do for their loved ones, so it is extremely important to acknowledge and validate the experience of those whose family and friends are directly affected by any of the aforementioned disorders.

It’s hard. Actually, it’s fucking hard.

Watching our loved ones in their suffering is difficult enough, but sometimes we also have to watch them not do anything about it or make choices which reinforce the problems.

Therefore, our own mental health might also be tested. We may become extremely sad or anxious about their health which in turn influences our own ongoing stress which has the potential to develop into our own physical and mental health complications.

It is at this point where I would like to acknowledge how important it is to ensure that we have our own self-care strategies. We obviously are responsible for our own physical and mental health, no matter how challenging it may be to observe our loved ones in pain.

Said another way, they don’t have the responsibility for our health, that’s our job.

Even though we might be shaking our heads in disbelief whilst they continue to hurt themselves, as well as finding it difficult to understand why they continue to make choices which are effectively self-abusive, how can we expect them to take proper care of themselves if we don’t do the same for ourselves?

Understandably, we can’t.

So when someone we love is in the depths of a disorder, it makes sense that it would be extremely difficult to do the right thing for themselves.

Let’s use an analogy to describe what we’re all going through. Their capacity to care for themselves is sitting on the bench whilst their need for instant relief takes the field and leads the play. Even if we scream at them “why don’t you get some professional help?!”, they’re too busy playing the game and trying to score their feel-good points.

You can’t really hear what the coach and crowd are yelling from the sidelines anyway.

It’s when the game has ended or even at half time when they can focus on everybody’s feedback. That’s when they have the capacity to listen and learn, but in the meantime, we have to accept that the game may go on for much longer than we would like.

That’s when it is our responsibility to find our own peace of mind during that time.

The reality is sometimes they don’t know they have a problem. Or they’re in denial. Or they think that it isn’t as bad as what it is. They may even flat out not care about making their lives better and participate in self-sabotaging strategies.

These actualities are quite common because those with mental illness won’t take it seriously until they realize the true impact it’s having on them and their loved ones.

Help is sought only when a true understanding occurs that help is needed.

Obviously, those with severe mental illness are not in a healthy state of mind, therefore they won’t respond to our concerns in a rational way. It’s up to us if we want to continue to provide support and whatever else they need, but always remember that it’s not them shitting all over us when they don’t care for us like we want, it’s them shitting all over themselves.

Ultimately, it takes time to have proper insight into an issue and then take appropriate action to rectify it, so whilst we’re on the sidelines, it is up to us to take care of both them and us the best we can.

Get all the right information.

Research alternative treatments.

Seek professional advice from multiple disciplines.

Empathize with your loved one.

Try different engagement and healing strategies.

Support all those in need.

And most importantly of all, take care of ourselves, because there’s no point more than one of us suffering.

Note: if you have a mental illness, you can treat it appropriately and permanently. A life of suffering doesn’t even compare to one without it, so I hope this encourages you to seek the right help. Best care.




Sane.org – 204 Facts & Figures about Mental Illness

Newsweek.com – Nearly 1 in 5 Americans Suffer Mental Illness Each Year

Sott.net – Brain Scans Prove Meditation Effective in Curing Mental Illness

Psychcentral.com Meditation as an Adjunct Therapy In Treating Mental Illness



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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Commons

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