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If you have a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, you are probably wondering what you can do to help. Although new forms of therapy, medications and community services have enabled many individuals to lead full, independent lives, support from family, friends and peers remains an essential element in the recovery process.
There are many ways you can help someone with a mental illness navigate the treatment system and work towards recovery. As in any relationship, emotional and practical support is always needed. Occasionally, family and friends participate in someone's recovery by offering transportation, financial and housing assistance. Whatever form it takes, your support, compassion and respect matter.
Knowing when and how to give support can be difficult to figure out, however. Though you may want to protect your family member or friend, remember that learning to manage one's own affairs, pursue goals and become independent are important aspects of an individual's recovery from mental illness.
Many individuals with mental illness take some type of medication to help control their symptoms. For those with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, this may involve taking antipsychotic medications. Although antipsychotic treatments have improved over the past 10 years, they still can cause side effects that lead to other problems that can make your friend or family member feel even worse. As a result, they may stop taking their medication.
Individuals with serious mental illness may not feel comfortable discussing their symptoms, feelings or medication side effects with family members and friends. However, a key element in recovery is productive, two-way communication between patient and doctor - what Mental Health America calls a Dialogue for Recovery. A Dialogue for Recovery that is based on mutual respect with a team of health care professionals can make a big difference in helping your family member or friend recover.
Here are some tips for supporting someone close to you:
For more information or to obtain additional Dialogue for Recovery materials, please contact your local Mental Health America affiliate. You can also find useful tips on our website by accessing the "Mental Illness and the Family" series here.
Mental Health America
2000 N. Beauregard Street, 6th Floor Alexandria, VA 22311