Sometimes a loved one with a mental health condition may not want other family members to know about their condition or treatments, or may not want them included in treatment. In fact, adult patients are subject to confidentiality, so that doctors and psychotherapists are not allowed to give other people, including close relatives, any information about their condition or treatment without the patient’s express consent.
In some cases it may also make sense for the individual to temporarily have little or no contact with their relatives. In this case, as a relative, you can speak to someone on the treatment team who can explain to you why the person concerned does not want any contact at the moment.
It is still possible to get in touch with the treating psychotherapist or doctor of the relative. For example, you can share your own observations about the condition and ask general questions. The practitioner may then not give you any personal information about the individual, but general information about the disease, treatment options and how to deal with the disease appropriately.
Consideration of the following tips can help to support the mentally ill person as well as possible, to live relaxed with him and in the family and to avoid stress and arguments
Be empathic and understanding
It is helpful to listen carefully to the mentally ill person and to give them time to explain their problems and how they see things. Show interest in his point of view and try to understand him and his problems.
Encourage small steps toward health and a return to normal life
Encourage them to do so, but do not push or overwhelm them. Give him confidence and hope. Praise him when he makes progress or when he tries to change something – even if he doesn’t succeed immediately – and enjoy it together.
Do not care too much for the person concerned
Give them as much independence as possible. At the same time, let him know that you are there for him when he needs support.
Realise that it takes time to improve and stabilize a mental illness and that setbacks can always occur
Therefore, be patient, also with yourself, and do not put yourself or your loved ones under too much pressure. Getting yourself or your loved one worried too much might actually make things worse. For example, if he is experiencing stress, too much pressure may escalate it to anxiety or depression.
Make time for constructive activities
Create positive activities such as leisure activities and excursions together. But don’t expect too much from your mentally ill relative, especially during and after acute phases of illness. Give them time and avoid overwhelming or overstimulating them.
Encourage a heathy routine
Promote a regular rhythm of life with regular and adequate sleep, regular meals and a balanced diet, sufficient exercise and regular times for work and leisure.
Have ground rules
Make arrangements with the person concerned and find common rules for living together in the family and for dealing with the illness, for example what to do if the illness worsens again.
Communicate your expectations
If you want to achieve something from your mentally ill family member, think about how best to proceed beforehand. Tell him clearly and objectively what you want and express your own wishes as a first-person message. Avoid getting angry or applying pressure, as this often does the opposite. But also set clear boundaries. Tell the victim clearly and in a calm tone which behaviour is unacceptable.
Encourage and acknowledge their strengths
Remember that even someone who is very sick has retained healthy proportions. Ask yourself how the healthy part of the loved one would react and how the sick part would react. Help the person affected to strengthen the healthy parts.
Encourage support from professionals in good time
Make yourself aware that it is not necessary for you or the sick person to come to terms with the disease alone and solve all the problems on your own. This is often not even possible and there are professional support offers for this. Motivate the person affected to seek professional support in good time.
Be aware of the meds they are using
Make sure you are well-informed about the drugs your loved one is taking, their effects, and possible side effects. Take a well-considered attitude towards medication. In many cases, medication is necessary and can help to significantly reduce symptoms. In some cases it makes sense to take it over a longer period of time. You can support your loved one in taking the medication and, for example, remind them to take them.
How can relatives cope if symptoms recur?
In some cases, symptoms of mental illness may worsen or recur. To prevent worsening or relapse into a new phase of the disease as much as possible, the following can be helpful:
- Together with your mentally ill relative, draw up a list of early warning signs of the illness that you can look out for together. In this way you can recognize in good time that a new phase of the disease may be looming.
- Make clear agreements with your loved one about the consequences of certain signs of illness or behaviour – how the person affected, or the family should react to them.
- In such a case, support your relatives in making an appointment with their doctor or psychotherapist or make an appointment together.
Felister Wamaitha is a mental health advocate.