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Family Guidelines for Coping with Mental Illness

The following may reduce stress, symptoms and disability in persons with schizophrenia, manic depression (bipolar) or chronic depression.

Go Slowly

Recovery takes time. Long periods of low expectations and limited progress are part of the recovery process. Each person must go at his or her own pace.

Keep It Cool

Frustration and tension are normal. Disagreements and conflicts are normal. Try to create a low-keyed as possible environment at home.

Give the Person Space

Privacy or time alone is valuable and important as a coping method for everyone in the family. It’s alright to offer companionship and opportunities to participate in activities, but it’s also okay to refuse. Take a ” time out ” when things get hot.

Set Limits

Everyone needs to know what the rules are. A few reasonable rules about simple courtesy and responsibility in sharing a household keep things calmer. Make the rules together and make them explicit and clear. Repeat them as needed.

Don’t Make an Issue of What You Can’t Change

Listen to the person if they want to talk about symptoms such as hearing voices, but don’t argue wtih them. Give them the opportunity to express themselves, even if their ideas are unrealistic. Social withdrawal and apathy are common symptoms of mental illness. Try to understand their need for these coping mechanisms. If you think this is hard for YOU, can you imagine what it is like for your ill relative?

Keep It Simple

Say what you have to say clearly, calmly positively and briefly. Repeat communications if necessary because your relative’s information processing center can be dysfunctional.

Pick Up Early Warning Signs

Note signs of impending relapse based on past experiences. These are usually changes in behavior and emotions. Things like changes in sleep patterns or sudden religiosity can be strong signs of relapse. Try to get help quickly! (See the Crisis Hotlines on this website)

Solve Problems Step By Step

Make changes gradually. Work on one thing at a time. Sit down together with other family members or friends and do some brainstorming before rushing into a response or solution to a problem. If there is no family or friends available, clergy is a good alternative to your circle of support. Problems will arise and are normal. How they are dealt with make all of the difference in the outcome.

Carry on Business as Usual

Re-establish family routines as quickly as possible after a relapse or hospitalization. Stay in touch with family members and ask for their assistance. Keep your friendship circle as intact as possible. Stigma comes in many forms. Social support is important for everyone.

Follow Doctor’s Orders

Take medications as they are prescribed. Try to get all of you questions answered by the doctor about side effects, duration of effects and alternative treatments. Be a partner in the treatment process by collaborating with the doctor and the patient. Work out a plan for maximizing the patient’s self-management of medications. This might require education for the whole family. (See Family-to-Family Education Classes on this website)

No Street Drugs or Alcohol

They make the symptoms worse and can provoke a relapse.

Listen, Then Communicate

Use active listening skills and mirror (repeat) back to the person what you think they are saying, so as to confirm that what you think that they are saying is what they mean. It helps to take a deep breath before responding.

Participation in Rehabilitation is Important

Assist the patient in overcoming transportation and other barriers to participation in regular treatment and rehabilitation sessions. Punctuality and attendance are important. In many cases, small steps have to come first.

Develop Work and Social Skills Gradually

This is especially true for the young adults who have had little or no work experience. Expect this to take time. Solicit help from rehabilitation agencies. Social skills must be learned or acquired. It’s very difficult to make new or keep old friendships. YOUR expectations MUST change for your relative’s future from what they were before the illness struck.