As the saying goes, if you’re on a plane, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. In order to take care of a family member or loved one with a mental illness, it is crucial to first take care of yourself. Mental illness caregivers provide support for the people they’re close to, so it can be helpful to consider some strategies that they can use to improve their caregiving efforts. After all, keeping up to date with caregiving tips to treat mental illness can make providing care easier and more effective for years to come.
Let’s take a closer look at a few caregiving strategies to help keep your loved ones engaged and inspired about managing and treating their mental health.
Offer Compassion For Previous Mistakes
It’s essential for caregivers to provide empathy and compassion when communicating with family members or loved ones. This absolutely includes referencing the past. Many individuals with mental illness already know some of the inappropriate things they previously did while ill. They may even obsess over their regrets and mistakes.
It may be a good idea to avoid bringing these incidents up if you see that your loved one is actively trying to better themselves and their behavior. Bringing up these past situations can make it harder to move forward in their recovery since they can’t alter the past. It is often better to instead focus on the present details, successes, and future goals.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Caregivers should make it a priority to recognize and praise all the accomplishments from a loved one with mental illness. If your loved one is experiencing severe depression, getting out of bed, bathing, or eating can be extremely difficult. Accomplishing any of these is something to commend. While it’s all too easy to mistake a depressed person’s inactivity for laziness, that isn’t the case. Recovery is often realized through a series of small accomplishments, like those in a normal daily routine. Encourage your loved one to dream and pursue goals and help them along the way with practical and realistic advice.
Self-determination is usually best supported by family members and among trusted caregivers. This may seem like an intimidating tip for both caregivers and their loved ones, but helping a person feel the freedom to choose what treatment they receive, what they eat, where they live, who they associate with is empowering and helpful for long-term recovery. When individuals take control of their lives, even in small ways, it can improve their outlook on life and mental health.
For some individuals, choosing where they live and if they live with anyone can help them feel more proactive and participatory in their own lives and decision making. For others, those choices may be overwhelming and make their anxieties worse. If this is the case, take the time to figure out other areas where they can practice self-determination, including making their own meals, taking initiative in household chores, or finding a hobby or leisure time activity to take more of an interest in.
Being over-involved is when a caregiver’s level of engagement in their loved one’s care makes things worse instead of better. Basically, an individual with mental illness may feel constantly watched as a caregiver “hovers” around them, waiting for another mental health episode or other challenging event. For an individual with mental illness, this over-involvement and reliance on predicting just the worst-case scenarios can feel self-fulfilling, disempowering, discouraging, and upsetting. Despite a caregiver’s good intentions, taking over too much of a loved one’s recovery can cause a person to withdraw and isolate.
Be Available As A Friend
One of the most important things for a person with a mental illness is knowing that they have strong bonds with friends and family who sincerely love them. Keeping close relationships and being involved with family dynamics is often beneficial for an individual’s recovery process. Continue to care and love them and be their friend, and set boundaries so that you do not get hurt physically or emotionally too. Consider that your friend does not need another therapist or mental health professional. They need someone that they can spend free time with, enjoy their own laughter, and feel accepted by regardless of their mental illness. Remember to follow your family member or loved one’s cue; if they want to talk, be there to listen. If they would rather not, support them and show that you are there for them anyway.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental illness, seeking treatment for it can offer relief and help mitigate feelings of helplessness and isolation. Combined with professional treatment, like the kind you can receive through clinical trials with the Lehigh Center for Clinical Research, offering caregiver support can let your family member or loved one know that they’re supported and not going through the experience alone.