A mental health condition usually affects mood, thinking, and behavior. Common mental health conditions include depression, schizophrenia, addictive behaviors, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. They also include dementia, bipolar disorder, psychoses, and many more. It is important to note that mental illnesses may be mild, moderate, or severe.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported 1.5 million U.S adults living with mental illnesses in 2019. That data represents one in every five U.S adults. The same report shows that 49.5% of adolescents had AMI (Any Mental Illness) and 22% had severe impairments.
According to WHO, about 264 million people are affected by depression, while bipolar disorder affects about 45 million people worldwide. The World Health Organization also puts the number of persons living with schizophrenia at 20 million. These statistics show that mental health disorders aren’t rare. You may have a family member with a mental illness.
Supporting a family member with mental health conditions can be challenging. However, you need to continue to learn how to help your loved ones live through diagnosis. The first step is watching out for them and noticing the warning signs in time.
What Are the Common Warning Signs of Mental Illness?
The American Psychiatric Association reports that 50% of mental illness begins at age 14 and 3/4s by age 24. So, mental illness seldom happens suddenly. You should watch out for these mental illness indicators in your loved ones to enable them to seek help early:
- Behavioral and mood changes
- Concentration problems
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and social circles
- Suicidal thoughts
- Substance abuse
- Changes in eating habits and unexplained weight loss
- Lack of motivation and interest in doing anything, including fun activities
- Illogical thinking
- Increased sensitivity to sounds, smell, touch, etc
How to Help a Loved One Cope with a Mental Illness
Realizing that a member of your family has developed a mental health problem can be frightening and confusing. However, it would help if you shook off your fear and calmed yourself down. With enough support from you, your loved one can live a happy life.
Here’s what to do to help a loved one deal with a mental health condition:
● Start the Conversation
Expressing concern about your loved one’s mental health is the first step to supporting them through their mental illness. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to do this. Expressing your concerns can help them to realize that they have a problem. It also helps them know that you care about them and are willing to support them on their recovery journey.
However, you must be extra careful about your choice of words. Remember that the aim is to express concern and support and not condemn their behavior. So, start the conversation with sentences like “I’m concerned about your behavior lately” and “I’ll like you to see a professional.” That’s much better than saying, “you must visit a counselor right now,” for example.
Say, “I’m here for you,” “how can I help?”, ” your feelings are valid,” and “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” etc. Remember not to be judgemental or force them to disclose anything they aren’t comfortable sharing. Ask open-ended questions and listen to them with rapt attention.
● Get Them To Talk to a Trusted Health Care Provider
When it comes to mental health problems, there’s always a need for medical intervention. You can’t do it all by yourself. While you provide the emotional support that they need, also encourage them to get help from doctors and counselors.
Speak to their primary health care providers about their condition. They may recommend suitable mental experts and centers for them. Your loved one may feel ashamed if you can offer to follow them for medical appointments. Let them know that seeking mental wellness is no different from going to a dentist for a toothache.
● Educate Yourself
It’s simple—you can’t take care of your loved ones without understanding their condition. Educating yourself about what they’re going through can help you develop empathy and patience. It can also help you to explore the best treatment options for them.
You can enlighten yourself by speaking with healthcare professionals. Many online platforms also provide lots of information about mental illnesses. However, ensure that you only read credible sources and mental health-specific platforms.
Focus on information about symptoms, causes, and treatment options. Also, take time to learn about common myths and misconceptions.
● Offer Practical Help
Mental health patients can feel overwhelmed by doing regular chores. They may be unable to maintain proper hygiene and find it difficult to look after themselves. Again, mental health patients need to rest as much as possible.
As such, helping your mentally ill friends and loved ones with daily tasks can take a lot of mental burden off them. Help them cook and clean as maintaining a proper diet and hygiene can help their condition. If they have kids, offer to babysit them. In summary, do all you can to take the stress of daily living off them.
● Check-In On Them Regularly
If you don’t live in the same apartment as your loved ones, ensure that you visit them regularly. If you can’t visit, call and text them as often as possible. Let them know that you’re thinking about them all the time.
Checking in on your sick family member is especially helpful when they’re suffering from depression and anxiety. Those conditions make patients isolate themselves from everyone. They feel alone in the world, and connecting with them regularly helps make them feel better.
● Be Patient and Take Care of Yourself
It’s never okay to neglect your health while caring for a sick relation. Even when it can be overwhelming, try to take care of yourself as much as possible. Develop a schedule that allows you to enjoy hobbies. Solicit support from other family members too.
Staying healthy puts you in a better position to care for your loved one. Another reason to take care of your health during this period is your risk of developing mental health problems. In some cases, mental illnesses are hereditary.
What Triggers a Mental Health Condition?
The following are the most common triggering factors for mental illnesses:
1. Sleep Deprivation
There’s a strong connection between sleep and mental wellness. According to the Mental Health Foundation, sleep can affect your mental health and vice-versa. Lack of sleep is both physically, emotionally, and mentally draining.
You can improve your sleep hygiene and get better sleep by exercising more and avoiding alcohol before bedtime. Also, try to stay consistent with your sleeping routine and turn off distractions before bed.
2. Genetics and Environmental Factors
Sometimes, mental illnesses run in the family. The most common inherited mental disorders include bipolar disorders, autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Depression can be hereditary too.
According to a medical report, however, no mental illnesses have 100% heritability. Specific environmental factors may also be responsible for triggering genetic-related mental disorders. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to separate genetic and environmental mental health conditions as they’re very well interlinked.
3. Brain Chemistry
Chemical imbalance in the brain can cause mental illnesses. When a person has a chemical imbalance in the brain, they have too much or too few specific neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are responsible for passing information between nerve cells. They include serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Medical experts still hold opposing views about the relationship between chemical imbalance and mental health disorders. However, a chemical imbalance can act in conjunction with other factors to cause depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc.
4. Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma is another common mental health disorder trigger. Children emotionally and physically abused or maltreated can develop mental health issues in adulthood. That is even when they’re no longer in the environment where they were mistreated.
Parental loss also causes childhood trauma that leads to mental health problems. Common childhood trauma-related mental disorders include PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, and anxiety.
5. Unhealthy Eating and Drinking Habits
There’s a significant link between food and mental health. Also, drinking lots of alcohol can cause alcohol use disorder that can cause specific mental illnesses. Alcohol use disorder and depression typically go hand in hand.
Patients can treat issues such as alcoholism through the use of medications, therapy, and with the help of support groups. There are numerous rehabilitation centers that offer help too.
From depression to schizophrenia, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc., many Americans are at risk of a mental health disorder. If you find your family member or loved one displaying mental illness symptoms, you must help them through it. Fortunately, many mental disorders can be managed, especially when detected early enough.
One of the important ways of helping your mentally ill family member is by educating yourself on mental health problems. You can only help them when you can understand what they’re going through.
Our e-learning portal offers numerous resources and courses on mental illness and care. You can start your journey to mental health enlightenment with just a click.