According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), some form of mental illness affects over 57.7 million Americans over the age of eighteen. What isn’t calculated is the number of individuals who are related to, friends with, or caregivers of someone affected with a mental illness. What also isn’t often shared are the coping tips that could help prevent unnecessary complications.
1. Familiarize yourself with the medications
For many mental illnesses, the first line of treatment for a patient is medication. Medication can quickly return a patient to a safer mental state and allow a therapist to work with the patient on other issues, especially in the case of depression or PTSD. What can be overlooked by loved ones is that medications take a long time to really be properly adjusted and may be in a state of adjustment throughout a patient’s life. That is, what works today for the patient may not work ten years from now.
Loved ones need to familiarize themselves with the medications that the patient is on. Knowledge of side effects, drug and food interactions, and dosage levels can be critical to avoiding errors that the patient might overlook or forget. Knowing the side effects, especially the ones to watch out for, can help the patient seek help in adjusting their medication. Not all patients are aware that their medication might be causing unwanted side effects until it is too late.
2. Know the symptoms of a rebound or worsening episode
While every mental illness is unique, each has signs that things are going downhill. Loved ones should familiarize themselves with the manifestations of the disorder as well as signs that the medication is off, not being taken, or is causing other problems. For example, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) given to a manic depressive patient in their depressive cycle can quickly cause escalated mania.
3. Talk to the individual about their diagnosis
Patients may or may not want to talk about their diagnosis. Some are ashamed and will try to disregard that they need help. Others will be happy to share their experiences. Either way, encouragement is best when speaking with patients. Let them know that it is not their fault that they needed help and that getting help is the first step to moving on. Talk to them about their fears and hopes. Ask them how they feel about their medications and their treatment plans. Having someone interested in them and their care makes a huge difference.
4. Attend a support group
Caregivers and loved ones may find solace in a support group. There are online forums as well as local groups that a caregiver can join which will help provide insight into behavior, anecdotes about medications and treatment options, and success stories from those who have beaten their situation. If nothing else, a support group can provide the caregiver with a chance to safely vent about concerns with others who understand their situation.
5. Speak with the doctor
Speak with the doctor directly about the individual’s progress, medications, and other treatment options if the patient and privacy laws allow it. Not every patient accurately reports to the doctor and to caregivers and family members, so this extra communication can be life-saving. For example, the patient may not be aware that his or her behavior is slowly slipping into the erratic.
The goal of treatment is to move toward functioning that is closer to normal. Patients should have as a goal to return to an enjoyable and productive life, and loved ones can assist with this by arming themselves with the knowledge to help when things aren’t on the right path. Knowledge is key when dealing with a mental disorder and may very well save someone’s life.