LIving with a family member with any kind of mental illness can be challenging. Be it a mood disorder, a developmental disorder, or a condition on any other spectrum, family members can often feel ineffective and disorganized.
Has the chaos in your home gotten out of hand? Is life overwhelming? Move from a place of powerlessness to a place of optimal management. Reduce family stress by putting these 6 non-negotiable rules into place. Now.
1. Knowledge is Power. - Educating the whole family, including the diagnosed individual, is the key to managing it. Fully understanding the scope of the condition starting with the physiology, the genetics, the neurochemistry, and the behavioral manifestations. This will facilitate more acceptance and reduce shame and stigma. Talk about it as a family, treating it like diabetes or any other physical condition, because guess what? It is a physical condition first. It manifests psychologically and behaviorally, but first understand its origins in the brain, which is a part of the body. There are so many misconceptions about psychological disorders, mis-used terminology, assumptions, myths, etc. Time to filter out the damaging connotations and stick to the medical facts. If you don’t feel equipped to handle this discussion, a mental health professional can kick-start the discussion, provide educational material, and de-bunk the myths.
2. A Treatment Plan - that is agreed upon by all family members. No sense in having a written plan of how it should be done if no one is following it. First and foremost, your mental health provider should be not only competent but liked and trusted by your family. Full explanation of side effects of medication whether it be weight gain or lowered libido, or sleep disturbances will help your partner or family to understand what can be expected. Medication compliance and regular monitoring is mandatory to mastering optimal wellness. A mental health professional can help to structure this.
3. Groupwork - for the individual and also for the family. There is a powerful dynamic that occurs in group therapy. Its difficult to describe but it lies somewhere between normalizing the condition by hearing what others are experiencing, feeling connected and not alone in this, and the open forum environment that allows for hope, humor, compassion. and connection. There are groups for everything these days. Families can benefit greatly from being with other families that share in their difficulties. Check out local listings for groups offered by hospitals, behavioral facilities, and community centers.
4. Boundaries - if you haven’t heard of them, its high time. Each family is somewhat different in this area but basically whatever disturbs the integrity of the family system is off limits. Do not underestimate the effects on siblings, partners, all others in the household. Healthy boundaries protect each family member and must be articulated and agreed upon. This prevents unfairness, manipulation, and disrespect. Decide what exactly they are and remember: if you feel compromised in any way, when something just doesn’t feel right to you - usually a boundary is being violated. Again, a mental health professional can work with you to formulate healthy boundaries.
5. Buddy-Alert System - often times a mental health condition can peak at certain times of stress or development. Even seasonal changes are affecting. Symptoms may escalate or new ones may appear. It is beneficial to discuss this during a stable phase and make an agreement that the diagnosed person will not be defensive when presented with the “buddy”s observation. Often times the person is unable to recognize that anything is different so an outside opinion of a trusted individual must be taken at face value with compliance to report these new symptoms to the medical professional in a timely manner.
6. Last but not least: Self-care. - Not just taking a bath or getting a massage, although these are helpful as well. But what I call Compassion-work. Really acknowledging the difficult lifestyle you are in, cultivating patience, and letting yourself off the hook. Self-blame and confusion around how to help and how much to help are overwhelming. Mindfulness techniques can take it down a notch and bring perspective to your life. Daily centering, yoga, meditation, journaling, and your own therapy to process the many overwhelming feelings that may be spinning around in your head. Self-care every day, and every way that works for you to feel ok in your world.