Caring for a person with mental health issues is a rewarding but difficult journey. Assisting with activities of daily living, managing medications, and keeping up with appointments in addition to providing emotional support can make your job challenging and put you at the risk of caregiver burnout.
This guide offers useful advice and tips to help you provide the best possible care for your loved one with a mental illness.
How to Be an Effective Caregiver to Someone with a Mental Illness
Caring for someone with a mental illness is a big commitment. To make sure your loved one has the best chance of recovery, it is important to get as much information as you can about their condition, be there for them when they need you, but also know how to look after yourself.
The more you know about the patient’s mental illness, the better prepared you’ll be to care for them. Mental illnesses range from depression and anxiety disorders to schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. You should learn as much as you can about the risk factors and symptoms of the disorder, the ways it affects your loved one’s mood, thoughts, and behavior, as well as various treatment options.
Information about the illness
You can get more information about the specific mental health issue from your loved one’s doctor or psychiatrist, by contacting mental health organizations, and looking for information on websites dedicated to mental illness. Be sure to ask for help if you have any questions about symptoms or the warning signs of relapse.
Mental illness treatment options include medication, therapy, counseling, group programs, self-help approaches, stress management, and more. You should have a good understanding of the different treatment alternatives and the ways in which they can help improve the symptoms of the illness.
Make sure that you have the following details about the medications your family member suffering from mental illness is taking:
- The name of the medication
- What the medication used for
- How often and for how long it needs to be taken
- Possible side effects and what to do if side effects occur
- How it may interfere with other medications
- How it could affect any other illnesses the patient has.
Mental health services
When caring for a person with a mental health issue, it is crucial that you familiarize yourself with the mental health system in general and your local mental health services to make sure your loved one is receiving the best care possible.
Below, we list several resources that provide extensive information about mental illnesses, available treatments, services, and support groups:
- Mental Health America (MHA)
- NYS Office of Mental Health
- NYS National Alliance for Mental Illness
- National Network of Depression Centers
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America
- Schizophrenia & Psychosis Action Alliance
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- NYS Office of Addiction Services and Support
- Eating Disorder Hope
Be prepared for emergencies
Make sure that you know whom to contact in case of an emergency. Have the following phone numbers readily available:
- Crisis/assessment team
- Closest emergency room
- Support groups
- Suicide prevention hotline (800) 273-8255.
In a life threatening situation, call 911.
Recovery from a mental illness is challenging, but not impossible. In fact, statistics show that 60-80% of people who receive treatment for mental health issues recover.
Mental illness treatment holds numerous benefits, including:
- Improved quality of life. When their depression, anxiety, stress, or other mental health issues are under control, your loved one can live their life to the fullest.
- Improved relationships. With fewer symptoms to deal with, the patient will have more time and energy for spending time with friends and family.
- Support and encouragement. Group therapy allows to meet other people suffering from the same condition and may serve as a motivation for faster recovery.
- Reduced risk of medical issues and complications. Untreated mental illness may contribute to heart disease, ulcers, and colitis, in addition to weakening the immune system. Many people with mental illness also develop substance addictions.
Psychological treatments can be used in managing mental illnesses. However, while they are effective in treating mild to moderate mental health issues, these treatments are not sufficient for managing severe conditions like psychotic disorders.
A psychological treatment consists of talking to a professional to better understand one’s own thinking and behavior, recognize and reduce symptoms, change the unwanted behavior, and ultimately improve the quality of life.
The most commonly used psychological treatments for mental illnesses include:
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). It helps patients learn how to identify and change inaccurate perceptions about themselves and the world around them.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy used for high-risk patients, for example, people with personality disorders. It focuses on controlling negative emotions and harmful behaviors.
- Supportive psychotherapy. This type of therapy teaches patients how to manage anxiety and negative thoughts on their own.
- Group therapy. It involves talking to a group of people who suffer from the same mental health issues under the guidance of a therapist.
Some people with mental illness require medication in order to stay well. Medications can help prevent relapse, avoid hospitalization, and reduce the risk of suicide.
The most commonly used drugs to treat mental illnesses are:
- Anti-anxiety drugs
- Antipsychotic drugs
- Mood stabilizers
- Stimulant medications.
Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)
Your loved one may want to complete a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). This self-guided form designed for individuals with a mental illness can help them create specific goals for recovery and prevent a mental health crisis.
Giving your loved ones freedom is a crucial factor in helping them become resilient for future crises and recover more effectively from their illness. Whenever possible, make sure to give them a choice when it comes to the type of treatment they receive, what they eat, as well as what leisure activities they engage in. Taking control of at least some parts of their lives will improve their outlook on life and mental health.
Be a friend
People who suffer from a mental health issue often feel isolated, especially when the severity of their illness prevents them from working or participating in social activities. It is important that they have friends and family members who are there for them and who accept them regardless of their illness. Relationships are also shown to be highly beneficial for the recovery process.
Balance your life
Finding balance in your life is not easy when you are a caregiver. However, successfully combining your task as a caregiver and other areas in your life is crucial in order to help your loved one recover and take care of your own health.
Take care of yourself
As a caregiver, you will undoubtedly be affected by your loved one’s illness. Caregivers are at increased risk of becoming depressed and having other health problems. However, if you neglect your own wellbeing and develop health problems, you won’t be able to provide optimal support to your loved one.
The following are some things you can do to reduce your risk of caregiver burnout:
Getting organized will help you reduce the stress resulting from your caregiver’s role. Routines will have a positive influence on the amount of time and effort you spend on your caregiver’s tasks. You may also want to keep a journal of your loved one’s health condition, keep a list of their medication, appointments, respite care, and various other activities. Maintain a schedule and write down everything you need to do each day, but at the same time make sure to stay flexible if any unexpected situations occur.
Restore your energy
To restore your energy, find time to do things that you consider relaxing and enjoyable. If you can’t leave your loved one alone, try to arrange for someone else to be with them while you are taking a break.
Take time out for yourself
Caring for your own physical and mental health will allow you to take better care of your loved one. Take some time for yourself every day so that you can recharge and provide better help to your family member.
Get enough sleep
Making sleep a priority is not easy when you’re a CDPAP caregiver for a person with mental health issues, but it’s crucial if you want to provide the best possible care to your loved one. Lack of sleep may lead to making poor decisions and caregiver burnout.
Exercising is not only a way to relieve stress, but will also help you improve your overall health and prevent anxiety and depression, two conditions commonly experienced by caregivers. Any form of exercising, whether it’s weightlifting, jogging, or simply going for a walk, will benefit your health.
Respite care services can provide you with a temporary break from your caregiving duties. After you have spent some free time with friends or pursuing your hobbies, you’ll be more present and focused on your tasks as a caregiver.
Besides, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor will allow you to be more aware of how you feel, obtain the support you need, and get answers to questions you may have about caregiving. Group information sessions for caregivers run by trained health professionals can also be useful for reducing caregiver stress.
Below, we provide an overview of some of the most common tasks you will be responsible for as a caregiver for a loved one with a mental health issue.
Tasks of a Caregiver of a Mental Health Patient
CDPAP caregivers are responsible for taking care of the day-to-day needs of the patients, monitoring their mental state, identifying the early signs of illness, relapse and deterioration, and helping them access services. While the exact caregiving requirements will differ from person to person, you can expect to perform most of the following tasks at some point.
As a caregiver, you should have basic cleaning and repair skills. You may need to help with washing dishes, doing laundry, taking out the garbage, vacuuming, and other housekeeping tasks. If your loved one lives in a house, it may also be necessary to do some yard work, shovel snow, and ensure daily maintenance.
Prescription medication management
One of your caregiving tasks will be to oversee the prescriptions, pick up orders, and administer medications. You will also need to check regularly on medication supply and be aware of any changes in medications.
Another CDPAP caregiver’s role is to advocate for the patient’s health and ensure that all the necessary appointments are being made, medicines are prescribed as needed. You may also need to check their health insurance paperwork, billing statements, and doctor’s orders to make sure your loved one is treated in a manner consistent with their care plan and is not being overcharged.
Help with personal care
Some people with mental health issues need assistance with activities of daily living (ADL), for example:
- Personal hygiene, such as bathing, grooming, and oral, nail, and hair care
- Help using the toilet
- Assistance with selecting proper clothes and getting dressed
- Transferring and ambulating if your loved one needs assistance with walking
A caregiver’s role is to find a balance between providing assistance and allowing patients to remain as independent as possible.
Meal planning and food preparation
CDPAP caregivers are often required to make meals, handle grocery shopping and meal planning, making sure that the food is both tasty, nutritious, and easy to digest for their loved ones. At the same time, it is necessary to take into consideration dietary restrictions, preferences, and allergies and avoid foods that can interact with medications.
Public transportation or driving may no longer be safe options for your loved one with mental illness. This means that you will need to drive them or look for transportation alternatives to get them safely to medical appointments and other activities.