The birth of your child, the happiest moment of your life, he is healthy and happy, you feel relief. You watch him grow and prosper over the years, filled with joy, at times frustration, but always loving and grateful for his existence. You watch with pride as he graduates from high school, then college. You are so happy to have watched him progress through this life, but also excited to start again with your freedom, when the unthinkable happens. Suddenly you notice a shift in your healthy, exuberant child. It may be subtle at first, but as the months or years go by it becomes more and more obvious…this isn’t “just a phase.” You are suddenly struck with a realization, “my child has a mental illness.”
Sound familiar? This is a common story for many parents, siblings, and loved ones of people who are diagnosed with a mental illness, whether it happens in their late teens or early 20s (as is often the case), or in early childhood or late adulthood. The reaction is the same, you feel helpless, scared, anger, grief, uncertain of what to do or where to turn. The person you loved and cared for so much seems to be a different person. How do I help them? What can I do?
At Fountainhead Clinic, we take a whole systems approach to treating mental illness. This includes, not only treating the whole person, but treating those closely involved with supporting their loved one with mental illness, i.e. the WHOLE family. I specialize in the treatment of these individuals. Coming from a place of personal experience, I understand the daily struggles and heartache that often go along with supporting a family member with mental illness. I am passionate about helping those who struggle with the diagnosis of their loved one because I understand how important it is for these individuals to maintain their personal health as well.
The purpose of this article is not to instruct you on how to care for your loved one, but how to care for yourself through this journey. Often, when a loved one is struck with mental illness, it is human nature to ignore our own health because we are so immersed in trying to figure out how to care for our loved one. Unfortunately, this tendency can lead to a path of self-destruction, which is not helpful for you or your loved one. How can you help if you end up in the hospital yourself? In order for you to best support your loved one, you must first take care of yourself.
Caring for someone with a mental illness can be very stressful, and depending on the severity of the disease, life consuming. This level of stress can severely affect any individual’s health, both mental and physical. Or perhaps you were already suffering with your own health problems, which are now going untreated?
Listed below are a number of things you can do to improve and maintain your own health. By doing this, you not only care for yourself, you also ensure that your loved one receives the best support and care possible.
- Address your own health concerns, even if they seem minor compared to your loved one: It is not uncommon for parents, siblings, and children of those with a diagnosed mental illness, to suffer from some form of mental illness which may be mild or undiagnosed, such as depression, anger and anxiety disorders. These disorders not only lead to you feeling bad, but may cause you to react inappropriately to your loved one.
- Find a support group (Your local NAMI chapter is a great place to start)
- Talk to a friend or therapist
- Eat healthy
- Exercise regularly
- Banish thoughts of blame and guilt
If you are still struggling with your own health challenges please contact me (Dr. Brooke McNeal, N.D.) for a free 15 minutes consultation to discuss how I can help you get the care you need and deserve.