Having a family member who is struggling with an addiction or a mental illness can be heartbreaking for the family. A feeling of powerlessness can accompany such a situation as family members stand by helpless unaware of what they can do. Often times this can lead to feelings of frustration and anger, which is completely understandable, but many times accomplishes nothing towards getting their loved ones help.
It is can feel like an impossible situation, but I assure you it is not. The reality is that many of us are not equipped to handle addiction or mental health issues because these two conditions rest outside of the normal goings on of many people’s daily lives. So when these things come up within our family we find it difficult to wrap our heads around what we can do to help. We may feel like this disruption to our plans is intrusive to our lives and so we ignore it, or we may become overbearing hoping to manage and control the person in order to help them avoid pain. Neither of these courses of actions is inherently bad and if you have engaged in them in the past there is no reason to feel guilty, but more often than not neither affect the desired result of the person getting better.
While each family must at the end of the day come up with their own plan of action for dealing with such situations, as they know their family best, I have listed below some steps that a family can take in order to best support their loved one in their time of need.
Ways To Support A Loved One Who Has An Addiction
While the ways to support a loved one that has an addiction and one who has a mental illness often overlap, I thought it best to separate the two in order to give a clearer picture of how the family can help.
- Join A Support Group Yourself or Seek Therapy
One of the best ways that a family can support a family member that is currently struggling with their addiction is by taking care of themselves first. Many times relationships can get rather skewed due to the nature of addiction, but joining Al-Anon or a similar support group, can help to return these relationships back to a healthy place. The family can best support their addicted family member if they are clear on where they stand and support groups or therapy can help with this.
- Do Not Enable Them In Any Way
This is often very difficult for families to do as we love our addicted family members. The thing we must be careful about is loving them to death. This may sound harsh but by enabling an addicted family member we do nothing but allow for their addiction to proceed unimpeded. By cutting them off financially or by making their addiction more difficult on them, we can many times help them find their bottom, which can lead to their getting sober.
- Be Available When They Finally Ask For Help
Many people do not get sober during their first attempt. I know for myself it took numerous attempts until it finally stuck, but luckily my family was always there for me. It is difficult to not get discouraged with a family member who continues to relapse, but the important thing is that when they do ask for help you try to be as supportive as possible. This does not necessarily mean paying for treatment or anything like that, but it does mean being there for them however you can.
Ways To Support A Loved One Suffering With Mental Health Issues
Due to the stigmas attached to having a mental illness, or the side effects from medication, many times people who are suffering from mental health issues will not seek the help that they need. This is where familial support can become imperative and below are some ways in which a family can provide this.
- Talk With Them About What Is Going On
This may sound overly simplistic but it is often the first step in offering support. If your loved one is already getting the help they need in order to deal with their mental health issues then this will offer a perfect avenue for you to be a part of their continued plans for treatment. If they are not currently getting the help they need then this can also segue into getting them help.
- Offer to Help Lighten Their Load
This can mean that you may help them with daily tasks that have become overwhelming or just lend a supportive ear, but by helping to alleviate some of the pressures that they are experiencing can often go a long way in helping someone who is struggling.
- Never Talk Down To Them About Their Mental Health Issues
A person who is suffering from mental health issues will often have a great deal of guilt and shame about this fact. Talking down to them or making them feel bad about this fact will do nothing but reinforce what they already think and may keep them from getting help. Being supportive and treating them with respect and compassion can help to break their internal stigmas, allowing them to finally ask for help.
It is important to remember that with both addiction and mental health issues recovery is not achieved overnight. There are often times a long road of successes and setbacks ahead. We understand those challenges and have geared our services to help meet the need. Try not to get frustrated at this fact, offering loving support and the occasional nudge in the right direction when needed. Dealing with these two issues in a loved one can be the most difficult thing that a family can face, so remember to take care of yourself as well so that when the time comes you can be of maximum helpfulness to your loved one and not yourself be bogged down under the weight of the situation.