Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Family and Friends Coping with Mental Illness

Given the high rates of emotional distress and mental illness, it is very likely that you will have a family member or friend who is dealing with a mental health issue. Mental illness does not just affect the individual but all of those who are around them. You may have a friend or family member who is dealing with depression, addiction, bipolar disorder, severe anxiety, or schizophrenia. If you are not careful, you can also become overwhelmed and develop intense distress as a result of the worry you feel for your loved one. Having a family member of friend with mental illness can cause you to feel sad, angry, frustrated, afraid, guilty, hopeless, ashamed, or confused. Here are a few important strategies:

1. Remember a relative or friend can not become the person's therapist. It is important for you to be a supportive person but you cannot cure or fix the issue. You can help to ease their stress but do not try to be the person’s therapist. It is not possible and it is not healthy for either of you.
2. Encourage your friend or relative to get counseling and if needed to take their medication. Mental illness is a major issue that requires more than positive thinking or willpower. There are some skills that can be taught in counseling, some difficult past issues that can be processed, and some symptoms that can be reduced through medication and/or talk therapy. If you care about the person talk to them about the importance of getting help.
3. Tough love is not the answer for mental illness. Yelling, cursing, and giving ultimatums to someone with a mental disorder is not helpful. It increases stress, frustration, and anger. Usually the person will isolate and/or get worse. They may begin to say what you want to hear but the change will not be authentic or long-lasting when it is based on threats.
4. Knowledge is power. You can be a more effective support person by taking the time to learn more about your friend or family member’s specific mental illness. Talk to their doctor (if they consent) and/or read about the causes, effects, coping strategies, and resources. You are not alone. There are other family members and friends around the world who are in a similar situation of trying to support someone with mental health challenges. Talk with them on-line or in groups. Getting more information will empower you.
5. Enjoy the good moments. Instead of focusing solely on the symptoms, remember the good memories and be open enough to experience the good moments as they occur. Appreciate the good and recognize the strengths of the person in spite of the challenges they are facing. It doesn’t mean we ignore the problem but we know that there is more to the person that a diagnosis.
6. Self-care for the caretaker. You may spend a lot of time and energy trying to make your family member or friend happy. You have to be careful not to wear yourself down. You will end up drained and bitter if you don’t take time for self-care. Constantly putting off your needs will eventually catch up with you and result in emotional and sometimes even physical health challenges. Take time to rest, eat healthy meals, develop healthy relationships, and possibly speak with a counselor.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Your Total Life Make-Over

At this time of year many of us make resolutions or revive old resolutions. We are often inspired and energized to turn the page, release the past, and move forward. We want to be wiser, stronger, and more fulfilled. The challenge is not always starting the new path but staying committed to it. Here are a few pointers to help equip you for the journey.

1. Make a commitment to a lifestyle change not simply a push for quick results. When we do rush diets to quickly lose pounds we often end up gaining them back. Additionally when we decide we just want to be with anyone, we end up choosing people who are not good for us in the long run. So instead of thinking of simply changing your life in the NOW, you want to commit to changing the way you approach life in the short term and the long term.

2. Set realistic goals. Often we get discouraged because we set unrealistic goals and then fail. When we sabotage ourselves but setting goals that we can’t live up to for more than a few days or few weeks, we do ourselves a disservice. Don’t set your goals based on what someone else is doing or simply what someone else has said. You have to set goals that work for you. Be honest with yourself. Now honest doesn’t mean that you set no goals at all. It just means that you take the mountain one step at a time.

3. Accountability is necessary. When we don’t set any standards we end up continuing to follow old habits, patterns, and relationship cycles. You need to acknowledge what needs to change and what you are going to do about it. Think it, speak it, write it down, share it, pray about it, meditate on it, and monitor it. If I make a vague promise to myself that I’m going to do better financially this is meaningless. I have to spell out to myself what exactly that means. I need to be very clear about my aims in terms of my budget, my investment in my financial future, and the temptations that need to be avoided. Often it is good to share your goals with another person who can help you to stay accountable. If I decide to give up fast food, or soda, or sweets, it helps if those around me know that this is my goal. Name it and claim it.

4. Surround yourself with positive people. If you are trying to quit or cut back on fatty foods, smoking, drinking, gossip, procrastination, or unsafe sexual activities, then you need to be around people who support those goals. If the people I am around constantly attempt to discourage me and dissuade me from my goal, it will be even harder to maintain the change. With a new attitude you should also draw new relationships – connections to those who are striving for better and who support those who are trying to do better.

5. Remember a set-back does not mean surrender. The truth is change is difficult. Too often because we slip up we excuse ourselves from any further effort. If and when you find yourself going back to old habits, remember the reason you committed to changing in the first place. Think about the benefits of change, recall how good it felt when you were living in a more positive way, and then take active steps to get back on the path. A misstep doesn’t have to be the final step. Recognize it for what it was, consider what you need to do to avoid it in the future, and then encourage yourself to make the change again.