How families and friends can help
- There are a number of different mental illnesses and they affect different people in different ways.
- Some people experience periodic recurrence of illness, others have only one experience while yet others experience enduring symptoms.
- It is believed that mental illness is triggered by a range or combination of factors. These include physical, social, psychological, socioeconomic and environmental influences which can result in a major change in a person\'s behaviour, emotions and thinking.
- Effective treatment involved a variety of approaches including education, counselling, medication and social support. Well- being can be enhanced when family/whanau and friends are educated and involved in the recovery process.
- Mental illness can be treated and the best health outcome occurs when treatment takes place in the early stages of the illness.
- Mental illnesses include: Mood disorders e.g depression and bipolar; psychotic disorders e.g schizophrenia and psychosis; eating disorders e.g anorexia nervosa and bulima and anxiety disorders e.g PTSD and GAD.
- Often these illnesses are caused by or complicated by drug or alcohol abuse.
How can mental illness affect family/whanau and friends?
When a person experiences a mental illness, families and friends:
- often face a range of emotions such as anxiety, anger, worry, confusion and fear.
- may be unsure how to act, or who to turn to for help.
- might experience social isolation through being reluctant to discuss what is happening in their usual circles.
- sometimes grieve and feel anxious and uncertain about the future and what it will mean for their loved one\\\'s education, employment and quality of life:
- may be concerned about what it will mean for themselves and other family/whanau members;
- often ask why; it is common for them to blame themselves, or to blame one another when a loved one is affected by mental illness.
How can family/whanau & friends help?
If you are worried that a family member or friend is in the early stages of a mental illness, or you feel that something is not quite right, there are warning signs you should be aware of: increased feelings of anxiety, panic and fear; changes to usual energy level; changes in mood ( Highs and lows); disrupted or changed sleep patterns; deterioration of school work or work performance; becoming with drawn from friends, family and colleagues.
Mental illness can be hard to diagnose in the early stages because other things can cause similar changes. Discuss your concerns with your GP or other health professional and request a general check up.
Information, education, support and advocacy
Family/whanau who are well informed and supported are better able to support their unwell family member. Local mental health services have information available on mental illness and treatment options including medication.
Family/whanau inclusion and participation in the treatment and recovery process supports a better outcome for the person experiencing unwellness. This involvement can help reduce future relapses or hospitalisation.
Practical suggestions to help
Symptoms such as mood swings, confused thinking, hallucinations, delusions, or panic and anxiety can be threatening and perplexing to your family member with mental illness and those around them.
A person who experiences some of these symptoms may become seriously depressed, withdrawn and possibly even suicidal. Occasionally a person might display uncharacteristic levels of anger and violence.
Here are some suggestions:
- Reduce the level of stress. While stress does not cause disorders such as psychosis and bipolar disorder, it could make the symptoms worse.
- Try to maintain calm at home.
- Take time out if you need. Even small breaks can be helpful to everyone.
- Speak quietly and clearly. Sometimes an illness makes a person excessively sensitive to noise levels, or unable to sort out complicated discussions.
- Aim to develop a good relationship with your family member\\\'s mental health team.
- Seek support for yourself. Maintain your social contacts as best you can.
- Take good care of yourself. Eat well, get sufficient sleep, take some exercise and be aware of your own stress levels. Access your local Supporting Families branch to support you in your caring role.