I frequently get calls from people who care about someone they suspect may have a mental illness. Others call because they are concerned that their loved one isn’t taking their medication or seems a bit “out of it.” What can we do to help the people we love who are struggling with mental illness.
When someone has cancer, people are quick to offer support; however when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness it is often kept hush hush, and those that do know about it often don’t talk about it because of the stigma associated with it.
First and foremost, love unconditionally. Your loved one needs to know that you care and that you are there for them. They need your support now more than ever. Don’t shy away because of fear – your presence in their lives can be a great gift.
Equip them with resources to find help. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is a great resource for friends and family members. You can reach them at http://www.nami.org/ NAMI seeks to educate people about mental illness, and to offer resources.
A word of caution: Do not become codependent. Trust me; I’ve been there. People who are codependent often have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes consuming to the caretaker and can be defeating. Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role by giving up their own needs for the sake of the person they are trying to help. In my case, I would go to Michael’s office after hours and return emails and make phone calls to try and “cover” for his inability to function at work. I did this out of both love and fear. I loved him and wanted to protect his reputation. I was afraid if I didn’t, he might lose his job.
Even though my intentions were good, ultimately my assisting was harmful. I prevented Michael from facing the consequences for his poor decisions (particularly coming off of his medications) and in doing so, I enabled him to continue making poor decisions. James Dobson wrote a book called Love Must Be Tough and I highly recommend it for people who struggle in this area.
Alas, don’t forget to pray! Pray! Pray! Pray! We cannot “fix” someone else as much as we may try, it is ultimately their responsibility to get help. We can intercede and our God is able to do the impossible. Pray daily for your loved one and be an example of Christ in their lives.
This post was written as part of NHBM – 30 health posts in 30 days: http://bit.ly/vU0g9J