Caring for Love Ones with Mental Illness

Taking care of a loved one with mental illness is no easy task. For unlike someone with a physical illness where the symptoms are clearly visible, mental illness is very much harder to manage for the simple reason that the illness is unpredictable.

Professional caregivers will learn much more about mental health conditions. They are in a far better position to take care of loved ones grappling with any mental health condition as compared to someone who is not trained. 

Hiring a private caregiver can be really expensive. Here are some great tips to guide for many who are personally taking care your love ones with mental illness at home.

Stay positive

First and foremost, caregivers must be positive. No matter how tough the journey can be, always regard caregiving as a noble task.

Believe

Believe in yourself, and believe in the people around you. Remember that you (patient and caregiver) are not walking this journey alone.

Empathise

Just like anyone of us, psychiatric patients too have feelings and can easily get hurt. Some could be hyper-sensitive, so we must not criticise them when theyare not in control of their minds. Instead, empathise with them as they go through their treatment.

Observe the 3Ps – Patience, Perseverance & Prayer

Patients suffering from schizophrenia can appear to be very fixed in their way of thinking. Family members will have a tough time reasoning with them when they go through a period of distorted thinking, unusual speech and behaviour.

Coping with the symptoms of schizophrenia can be very difficult for family members who remember how lively and down-to-earth the person was before they fell ill.

Hence, it is crucial for caregivers to observe the 3Ps when managing a loved one suffering from mental illness. The 3Ps are Patience, Perseverance and P rayer.

Medical compliance

Many patients suffering from mental illness have relapses because they don’t take their medications faithfully. It is very important that caregivers ensure that the patient takes his/her medications every day.

Sometimes there are different types of tablets to be taken at different times. Both the patient and the caregiver need to understand what medications the doctor prescribes. They must also be able to recognise the medications.

Medical no-no

A big NO to taking slimming pills due to some side effects of the medications, there could be cases where patients put on weight. As a result, patients, especially ladies who are conscious of their figure, may resort to taking slimming pills. Slimming pills can affect the mental state of the patient and can potentially trigger a relapse of their mental illness.

Instead, regular exercises that could include brisk walks at lunch time and jogging after work are far better. Exercise is an excellent way to deal with stress and the biochemical effects of tension and pressure.

Avoid crowded places when they are unwell

Caregivers should avoid bringing their loved ones who have a relapse or are heading for a relapse to crowded places as they can become very fearful and tend to imagine that “people are talking about them.” This is part of the hallucinations which my late wife experienced during a relapse of her schizophrenia.

Install double-glazed windows in the sleeping area

My wife used to find it irritating whenever there is noise. Excessive noise such as renovation work in flats can so easily trigger a relapse of mental illness. Thus, it’s important to install double-glazed windows in the room where the patient sleeps to ward off noise pollution – as a preventive measure.

Give feedback to the doctors and nurses

Family members who want to help their loved ones to a speedy recovery need to provide the correct feedback to the hospital staff. Caregivers must also closely monitor the patient’s behaviour when they visit them in hospital and when they are given home leave. The information gathered should then be passed on to the doctors and nurses so that they are well positioned to treat the patient accordingly.

Reduce exposure to negative contents

Persons suffering from mental illness should not read or see negative things. Instead, they should be encouraged to read articles on the arts and happy events. Humorous movies or television shows that are comical will encourage patients to stay happy.

It is also advisable not to watch or listen to the news just before they go off to bed because violence, terrorism, killings and people dying from illnesses highlighted in the media will play on their minds and they may not be able to get a good night’s sleep.

Watch out for warning signs!

Caregivers must constantly stay alert, looking out for any early warning signs that their loved ones’ display. Do not wait until all the symptoms appear before you alert the doctor, otherwise once the relapse occurs, the patient could require hospitalisation. 

Keep the mind active

Your brain, just like your body requires exercise. Walking, jogging, playing scrabble or mahjong helps you to stay mentally alert. For my wife, she enjoyed writing stories and when she does that, she not only has a meaningful purpose in life, but writing keeps her mind actively engaged.

As you age, regular exercise for the body and the mind can help increase blood flow to the brain and when the old cells die off, new brain cells can be formed.

Bring music and laughter in their lives

With laughter being the best medicine, bring humour and also music in the lives of psychiatric patients.

Watch your dietary intake

Cut back on caffeinated beverages and refined sugarStop drinking or cut back on caffeinated beverages, including soda, coffee and tea as caffeine increases anxiety, interferes with sleep, and even provokes panic attacks. Reduce the amount of refined sugar you eat as well.

Note down the stressors

A stress journal can help you keep tabs of the regular stressors in the your life and the way you handle it each time. Each time, you feel stressed out, record that in your journal and keep track of it. As you maintain a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes that signal "burn-out", which calls for the need to seek external help.

Have sufficient rest and sleep

Follow the hospital routine where loved ones are given sufficient rest every day. Sufficient sleep helps the body and mind to relax and gives patients the energy to start a new day without feeling too drowsy from the effects of the medications. Sleeping too much is not healthy as it makes them lethargic and lose interests in daily activities.

Moderate expectations

Last, but not least, caregivers should not dwell on guilt feelings. On the other hand, don’t blame the ill person for causing worry, shame or family disruptions. Instead, be sympathetic and understanding.

Remember, recovery from mental illness takes time, so be patient and don’t set your expectations too high. Above all, don’t get discouraged. Some days will be worse than others, but just like the clouds, it will pass away.

Raymond Anthony Fernando, 2018