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Supporting a loved one with a mental illness

Kristin Wells, the CMHA’s South Cariboo community engagement co-ordinator’s column to the Free Press
Kristin Wells, the Cariboo Mental Health Association’s South Cariboo community engagement co-ordinator. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Taking care of our loved ones in times of sickness or injury is something that we generally know how to do; we can get them cold medicine, make them soup, or nurse them back to health. Most of the time, when someone is sick or injured, there are visible signs and symptoms for us to see so we can jump into action and help get them back on their feet again.

However, when someone we love is suffering from a mental illness, it can be scary and challenging; we may not know how and when to help them. They may not have any outward signs or symptoms that are as easy to spot as someone with a cold or the flu.

Just because you can’t see the illness does not mean you are powerless to help. Your love and support will go a long way in helping your loved one get the help and support they need to get back on the right track.

There are things you can do to help your loved ones; the love and support you show them will play a key role in their recovery; it will show them that they are not alone and that they have the emotional support they need to keep going. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health and you don’t know where to begin to help, we have put together some advice to help get you started:

Know that you are not to blame for their illness: Mental illness can be caused by many different factors. It can be a combination of things or one or two things. Genetics can play a role in illness, as can biology, life experiences, and the environment a person grew up in and or is living in.

Know when something is off: Family and friends are usually the first to know when something seems off or wrong with a loved one. You may notice that your loved one may no longer be interested in things they used to enjoy or may seem to be sad or angry more often. If you notice your loved one is feeling unwell all the time, has changed their sleeping patterns, has become more anxious, or is missing more school or work, something may be wrong.

Help manage doctors’ visits: Family and friends can often make great advocates for loved ones while they go through the process of diagnosis and treatment. People who are struggling can often forget important things that the doctor may need to know. It’s also helpful to have someone different from the patient make notes regarding treatments and medications during appointments. If you notice that a medication is not working or is working well, you can let the doctor know.

Medication reminders: If you live near your loved one, it can sometimes be helpful to remind them to take their medication if they struggle with that. For many medications, it’s important to take them at the same time every day for the patient to get the full effect. Many people will often struggle to remember this so a gentle reminder may be beneficial. You can also assist with medication refill reminders or setting up daily or weekly blister packs with the pharmacy.

Take care of yourself: Taking care of a loved one who is struggling with a mental illness can be a lot of work; it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. Your needs and well-being are just as important. It’s natural to feel different emotions while helping a loved one; you may feel angry, sad, and guilty. It’s important to recognize these emotions and know they are normal; it’s okay to feel that way. Joining a local or online support group can be a great place to speak about your experiences and hear other people’s experiences, as well as what has helped them along the way. Taking time for yourself can help you recharge by doing things that help you relax and feel calm.

Your journey ahead may not be easy; it may be filled with many ups and downs but know that your love and support will play a vital role in helping your loved one through their struggles. Being a shoulder to cry on or an advocate in appointments helps make the journey easier for all involved. Know that you are not alone, and there are many resources to help you along.

Remember to be kind to yourself, practice self-care, and reach out for help if you need it.

If you are needing support, you can:

• Contact CMHA South Cariboo for mental health support at 250-395-4883. The office is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Call the Emergency Crisis Line 24 hours a day @ 1-888-353-2273,

• Call the Suicide Crisis Line at # 9-8-8. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.