Helping a Loved One with Mental Illness

Distorted thinking patterns leave a person with mental illness unable to function normally. Understanding these thinking patterns allows others to help them.
Distorted thinking patterns leave a person with mental illness unable to function normally. Understanding these thinking patterns allows others to help them. | Source

Communicate

In order to understand what your loved one with mental illness is experiencing and how best to help, it is necessary to communicate. The danger in doing so, however, is that mental illness results in distorted thinking patterns and irrational belief systems. Once you are aware of what these are, they can be labeled and discussed to the point that your loved one may be able to catch him or herself using them.

The following list was taken from a handout received at the Northwest Human Service Center in Williston, North Dakota, during cognitive therapy for depression and anxiety

1. Filtering - Filtering puts the focus on a single negative detail taken out of context, isolated from positive details, thus coloring the entire event as negative.

2. Polarized Thinking - In polarized thinking, there is no room for middle ground; everything is extreme - black or white, good or bad.

3. Overgeneralization - Overgeneralization is a broad, general conclusion based on a single incident or event.

4. Mind reading - A mind reader makes assumptions or judgments based upon the thoughts he or she perceives other people have.

5. Catastrophizing - Catastrophizing is worrying about bad things that are not likely to happen. Statements beginning with "what if" are characteristic.

6. Personalization - Personalization is a narrow point of view where everything centers on the self and its relationship.

7. Control Fallacies - There are basically two control fallacies, one of total external control - the individual is helpless and dependent on others, and one of total internal control - the individual is all powerful and others are dependent upon him or her.

8. The Fallacy of Fairness - The fallacy of fairness says that all things should be "equal" in order to be "fair."

9. Emotional Reasoning - Emotional reasoning is making judgments and decisions based upon subjective feelings rather than reality and facts.

10. The Fallacy of Change - The fallacy of change says that a person will be happy if those around him or her will change their actions.

11. Global Labeling - Global labeling is taking a general statement and applying it to a larger set of circumstances.

12. Blaming - Blaming is shifting the responsibility for one's actions onto someone else.

13. Should Statements - A person who uses should statements has an invisible list of rules and expectations for people's actions. If they or others violate the list, then guilt and/or bad feelings result.

14. Being Right - Being right means always proving that one's own point of view is correct, therefore, others are wrong and need to change.

15. The Fallacy of Heaven's Reward - The fallacy of heaven's reward says that good will always triumph, and those who sacrifice for and do good will receive a reward in heaven.

Talking about the symptoms experienced enables greater ability to deal with them.
Talking about the symptoms experienced enables greater ability to deal with them. | Source

Depression

Hello Depression, come on in! It's really good to see you! All the others have abandoned me, you'd think I had the flu! They didn't want to hear me talk of troubles I am having. They'd rather speak of politics, prose, and the money they are making.

But me, I never have enough of anything, you see. I feel deprived of happiness, no one cares about me. My life is really worthless now, I'm not good enough to live. Even my Father in Heaven will not his Spirit give.

You're the only one who really cares, so I'll hang on to you. I can hide behind your face. Please stay! I really need you!

Talk about symptoms

Even though there are standard definitions for various mental illnesses, everyone experiences their own illness differently. Read all you can about the illness your loved one has been diagnosed with. Learn about the medications, modes of treatment, and ways to make life as normal as possible.

Because our bodies and minds change with the circumstances of life, symptoms and illnesses change. At one point, your loved one may be diagnosed with depression. Another time, with anxiety, and still another, with bipolar. All may be correct given the presenting issue at the time of the diagnosis. Make a symptom chart that outlines how the illness affects your loved one. Put it in a place where all can see it.

Example of symptom chart

Area
Mania
Normal
Depression
Sleep
Not wanted or needed
8-10 hours daily
Sleep all the time
Activity
Constantly active, dancing, singing, moving, talking excessively
Enjoy a variety of activities, including moving, sitting, standing, and resting
Slow, shaky, weak, want to just lay around and do nothing
Appetite
Lack of desire to eat due to issues with the digestive system
Able to maintain weight by choosing nutritious foods in appropriate amounts
Eating more than needed in an effort to curb bad feelings
Decision Making
Decisions based on future that is not here yet
Make the best choice after considering the options
Avoid decision making, depend on others
Reality Base
Mixture of delusions, TV shows, extra-terrestrial, and memories
Here and now
Past negative experiences
Personal Appearance
Use of unorthodox methods of cleaning
Use good personal hygiene, want to look best
No desire to take care of self
Social Situations
Talking all the time, no personal boundaries
Reciprocal relationships, care and concern for other's welfare
Withdraw from social situations
Medications
Don't want to take medications for fear they will cause harm
Take medications as directed
Forget to take medications, have to be frequently reminded
Spirituality
God is telling me what to do, I am his messenger
Pray to know what to do and follow the spirit
Feelings of darkness, others are out to get me
Treatment options are many and varied, and your loved one will need your input to make decisions that are in the best interest of all involved.
Treatment options are many and varied, and your loved one will need your input to make decisions that are in the best interest of all involved. | Source

Do you have a loved one with a mental illness?

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Talk about treatment options

Decision-making is difficulty when you have a mental illness. Your loved one may need assistance finding appropriate medical personnel, medications that work, and activities that will not exacerbate the illness due to increased stress. Treatment for mental illness is also very subjective, and can be done in a variety of different settings.

  • Private clinics - advantages include increased choices in the types of treatment available, qualifications of individuals providing treatment, and options for counseling. Disadvantages are higher costs for treatment, and the need for private insurance that covers the treatment chosen.
  • Major medical facilities - advantages include connection with learning facilities, having the same doctor for in-hospital treatment as for clinical work, increased research and use of innovative treatment options, and access to charity for the needy. Disadvantages are the lack of personal service, and less focus on available choices or options for treatment.
  • Human service centers - advantages are the provision of case management and community involvement services for the individual. Public funding is available on a sliding fee scale depending upon the needs of the individual. Disadvantages are that the atmosphere is geared toward high poverty and low intellectual ability cases.
  • State Hospitals - advantages include state funding if treatment is court ordered, residential treatment for long term problems that require months to resolve, and resources that may not be available elsewhere. Disadvantages are that the person may have to be away from family members for an extended period of time, and the possibility of needing to become a ward of the state.

Help your loved one have the skills needed for their everyday life. Make sure that they are eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, taking their medication(s) regularly, and following the directions given by their doctor and/or counselor. Assist them with issues such as problem solving, conflict resolution, resource management, critical thinking, and establishing appropriate relationships.

It may be necessary to use a bit of "tough love" by saying and doing things that your loved one may not like, such as limiting time on social networks, controlling financial resources, curbing inappropriate behavior, and establishing other boundaries that are necessary for safety and protection.

Take the time to be compassionate when your loved one is suffering. You are in a key position to help them cope with their illness.
Take the time to be compassionate when your loved one is suffering. You are in a key position to help them cope with their illness. | Source

Be compassionate

Your loved one will go through times when life seems more difficult than they can bear. Your choice to remain kind and considerate, even showing compassion, may make the difference between them choosing life and death. With you in a key position as a loved one, your actions of acceptance or rejection will have a dramatic affect on their view of the value of life. Take time regularly to be kind and do things together that your loved one finds enjoyable.

As you do so, you will find that your loved one develops hopes and dreams, and shares them with you. Allow this to take place, it is a normal part of human existence. Whether or not these dreams materialize does not matter, what matters is that your loved one sees something positive in his or her future. Time will tell whether or not these things happen, you need not be a pessimist and tell them that life will never be fulfilling. That only adds fuel to the fire of their mental anguish.

Help your loved one get connected with people outside of your immediate family or household circle. Encourage interaction especially in religious settings, as members of religious organizations are more likely to be loving and accepting of mental illness and its accompanying life difficulties. For your sake, see that there is a support circle of friends and acquaintances that you meet with regularly, without the company of your loved one. This allows you to get the support and strength that you need to continue in a supportive role.

Burnout is highly probable and likely for you as a caregiver. Watch for feelings of irritability, impatience, and especially a non-caring attitude. These are signs that you have given more than you have available and are running on empty. See that you have things you enjoy that you are able to do on a regular basis to keep yourself emotionally and physically strong. As you do so, you will be able to be there for your loved one when they need you.

You may also need professional counseling to help you understand and deal with your loved one's mental health difficulties. That way, you can ask questions, get insight into coping techniques and treatment options, and keep yourself emotionally healthy. It is well worth the time and effort!

Celebrate the good times, and you will find that they come more frequently. Give your loved one a pat on the back when life is good and the choices made bring positive results.
Celebrate the good times, and you will find that they come more frequently. Give your loved one a pat on the back when life is good and the choices made bring positive results. | Source

Healing

Is this really happiness and joy I'm feeling?! It's been so long, it seems like years, my head with glad thoughts is reeling! Just yesterday the clouds were there hiding the bright sun. But now they're gone, the light comes in. I can actually have some fun!

I can run and skip, jump and play, and smell all of the roses. I watch a child, so innocent, and marvel at cute feet and toesies. I feel a sense of newness, of freshness in my life. Gone is the pain and sadness I felt, the frustration and the strife.

The Lord is now a part of me, like he's never been before. I know him well, he's at my side, he's opened up the door. I gave my burden unto him, it had become so heavy. I could no longer carry the load; my body and soul were weary.

All I must do is walk with him, and work along by his side. He points to others that I can help through his Spirit, that in me abides. As long as I continue to love and serve as he, my burden he will carry, and walk alongside of me.

Celebrate the good times

All mental illnesses have times when there is a lull in the action, where symptoms are minimized, treatment has been effective, and a smile is on the face of your loved one. When this happens, take the time to celebrate. Do something fun. Dance to some music, go to the park, go out to eat, or just get some balloons and blow them up and pop them. Whatever you do, make it fun and enjoyable, and do it often enough that you look forward to the next time it happens.

Celebrating the good times keeps life choices positive and upbeat, and down times in perspective. Mental illness is much like chronic physical illness, it must be managed with positive daily habits and choices, an understanding of the need for medical treatment, and communication with providers and each other. All of these things bring an added measure of good will and camaraderie between you and your loved one, and make life that much better. The time you take to help your loved one deal with their mental illness will increase the quality of life for both of you.

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Comments 26 comments

Eliza Anderson 3 years ago

I know what it is like to have a mental illness because I myself have one. It was difficult to control in the past; but now I can see what is real and what is false.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

That is good, Eliza, that you are able to tell the difference now. Hopefully, it will help you in the future to lead a more normal life. Thanks for reading and commenting.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean

Denise, this article is so useful to me. Several of these thinking patterns seem to be relevant for my mother's situation. I am afraid to start a conversation, because most times, her interpretation had led the conversation down a path I'd rather not go. Voted Up and Useful.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

It is difficult to communicate with someone who is steeped in irrational thinking patterns. What I have found most helpful is to get them talking rather than trying to hold a reciprocal conversation. The more they are able to talk, the more they are able to work through some of their feelings. It is necessary to shut off part of your heart, though, especially if you tend to be a problem solver and want to help. Listening is an act of love, and by hearing what they have to say, you are keeping the communication door open. You don't have to agree or disagree, or try to change them, just listen so that they know you care. Thanks for reading, MsDora, and may God bless you in your difficult situation.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

What a wonderful topic and I am sure it will be comforting to many who need the advice. It is a growing concern in our country and I hope that we find solutions for those who need the support.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Thanks for your kind comments, teaches 12345. The stigma associated with mental illness makes it difficult for family members to get the support that they need. The more open we are in discussing these issues, the more people will understand them.


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

I've been running on empty for quite a long time now. I sometimes have to distance myself for a little while until I feel better. The frustrating thing for me is that I have someone in my life who clearly has some kind of mental illness/disorder but won't do anything about it or let anyone help him even though he is unhappy with the way his life is and it is becoming more chaotic. This is a good hub and explains quite a lot. Voted up and useful


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

That is a difficult position to be in Sue Bailey. You are doing the right thing by making sure that your own needs are met. When someone we love has a mental illness and they do not want to get help, it makes life hard for those around them. The more you can learn about what they are experiencing, the more you are in a position to have a positive influence. The understanding you gain will be an asset to you in other situations as well.


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

Thank you Denise. This has been going on so long now that I believe it has had a detrimental effect on my own health which is why I have to distance myself every now and again. I got cancer almost 3 years ago and have multiple other health problems which I believe were caused by the constant stress. I thought we'd had a breakthrough last week when he agreed to attend a medical appointment made for him by his keyworker. Sadly he didn't attend so back to square one. I think he's afraid of being labelled as someone with mental illness plus change is hard and very frightening. I'll just hang on in there and keep hoping.


L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 3 years ago from Oklahoma City

The information you've shared here gives valuable insights into mental health issues.

When I read through the thinking errors, I noticed that some of them are characteristics of people who aren't necessarily mentally ill, but common to see at least one of them in people encountered everyday.


Rfordin profile image

Rfordin 3 years ago from Florida

Ahh mental illness. A subject so close to my heart. Thank you for sharing this information with everyone.

As you can tell from all the hubs I write the symptoms, and disorders are so plenty yet so misunderstood.

I enjoyed reading this. Voted useful and shared.

~Becky


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

I'm glad to hear that your loved one agreed to see a doctor, Sue, that is a first step. You may want to start with a regular doctor instead and just have a complete physical. There may be other issues than mental ones going on. We did that with one of my family members, and it helped him be willing to seek psychological help on his own later. I hope for the best for you!

Yes, LLWoodward. Distorted thinking patterns can be problematic for anyone. When someone has mental illness, though, there are a lot more of them present. Recognizing them is a big step in dealing with the mental illness, at least it was for me.

Thanks, Rfordin, for the vote of confidence. Mental illness is a big part of my life as well, both my personal and family life. Writing about it helps keep me out of the counselors office!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

You obviously know what you are talking about in this hub. You certainly take on some interesting subjects, and I can tell by the company that you keep that you hang with a good crowd here at HP.

Well done....great information. Such a serious issue in this country, and often time an ignored issue and certainly under-funded.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Thanks for the compliment billybuc. I write primarily from my own experience. Although I am schooled in mental health issues, I received the schooling after the experience! Hopefully, the things that I have learned in my own life will help others. Thanks for reading and commenting!


Purpose Embraced profile image

Purpose Embraced 3 years ago from Jamaica

Thanks Denise for writing such an informative hub. I really agree that showing compassion is critical, and especially so because of the stigma attached to mental illness. Our loved ones who suffer with mental illness need a sense of belonging like everyone else. Our compassion lets them know that we accept them just as they are.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Thanks for that important comment, Purpose Embraced, "Our compassion lets them know that we accept them just as they are." Accepting others as they are gives them permission to change. When we do not accept them and try to change them, we run the risk of backing them against a wall of opposition. They dig in their heals, and we apply the pressure. All we end up with is a power struggle. When we accept them as they are, we allow them room to become better people.


passionate77 profile image

passionate77 3 years ago

excellent, wonderful hub, with great details and great helpful information about the topic. really you did a wonderful job denise dear, the message this hub conveys is really very important. it is cent percent right that we should help them by showing our deep compassion, that is the key factor. blessings dear for all these great information!


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Thanks for your glowing comments, passionate77. I speak in this hub from the realm of my own experience, having several members of my family with mental illness, including myself! It is a difficult road, and is fraught with many things that we never think that we will have to endure. It is only a moment that we are here on this earth, but for those that have mental illness, it can be a very long one!


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

How wonderful. I am afraid I have learned many of these lessons from the "inside out". But perhaps that is a major reason for my trials.

Great hub. Sharing it with my children. We all know someone to help, even if it is just us.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Yes, Ericdierker. I, too, have learned these lessons from the "inside out." Mental health issues run in our family. We all have it in some form or another. Taking the time to learn how best to live with it has been high on our priority list. I appreciate you reading and commenting. I hope that your family will be helped as well.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

I am just reminded that it can be a good thing also --- if we do it with our loved ones. Thanks again for a great hub, may many be blessed by it.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Sometimes we don't realize it, Eric, but our loved ones are the most important people in our lives. We cannot have happiness and peace without figuring out how to have positive relationships with them, no matter what their diagnoses.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Or mine!!!


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Ditto!


russinserra profile image

russinserra 24 months ago from Indianapolis, In

Great article. Definitely a topic that needs more conversation. I would like to point out that not all depression is marked by sleeping a lot. Depression is a precursor to anxiety which can make sleep very difficult for some people.

Also, depression is not always accompanied by "comfort eating." Some sufferers experience a loss of appetite.

Please keep up the dialogue!


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 24 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

You are right, russinserra. Having experienced both depression and anxiety, it can be different for each individual. I found this chart especially helpful for my daughter who has schizoaffective disorder. It was a way to keep her feeling more "normal." Once she was able to recognize the opposite ends of her own spectrum, she could channel her thought patterns more toward the center.

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