I recently attended a session where family members/caregivers of patients were having a discussion, a lot of people had this question “how can I make my sibling/spouse/son/daughter with the illness do xyz (eg. exercise) “, a few said force them, a few said bribe them, while one of the members said something that got me thinking, she said at times we have to realize that “if he/she could, he/she would”. This sentence for some reason made a big impact on me and changed my perspective on this issue.
(I found a really good article on the above topic, on NAMI website. Below are excerpts from the same article).
If he could, he would- If your son/wife/brother was having an asthma attack and your help consisted of saying things like “Try harder at breathing,” it would definitely be ineffective, and probably it would be unsafe. And yet when it comes to matters of the brain, we have adopted the sentiment that grit will get us through. What do we do when we see someone having an asthma attack? We act fast, we supply them with medication when needed, we give them adequate time and treatment and room to breathe, and we teach them the skills to properly take care of themselves. Mental illnesses are scientific, physiological illnesses and need to be treated as such in order for wellness to be achieved.
It is important that once we’ve faced the reality that our loved one with, for example, major depression cannot get out of bed or do things on her own because it is a symptom of her disorder, and not because she doesn’t love us any more or because she isn’t trying hard enough to find the joy in the small things, we can help her by sharing our thoughts on treatment, after we have established an atmosphere of healing and trust, empathy and acceptance. There is a myriad of treatment options for persons suffering from mental illness: medication, individual talk therapy, group therapy, and therapies designed to build or rebuild skills that for whatever reason have been lost or were never given the opportunity to develop (such as emotion regulation and behavior intervention). There can be a tremendous success for people who find the right match and method of treatment, and who are willing to do the work; it takes to support and it takes time.
Let go of your timetable/Developing patience/taking one day at a time– There is no magic time frame for wholeness, and certain mental illnesses ebb and flow for many years. Believing that your loved one should be better in a few weeks or months can set everyone up for hardship; “should’s” are a trap, and everyone’s journey is their own. Resolve to love and respect the person in your life through each part of the process—when they move forward and when they regress, when they have victories and when they stumble back into old coping mechanisms. Realize that it is going to be a roller coaster ride, let go of idealized timetables and make a one-time decision that just as you would tell someone with cancer that you will remain by their side until they beat it, you are going to be there (even if it’s hard, even when it’s ugly, even if it takes a long time). And then stay, even when you’ve pushed away. Isolation can feel comfortable for someone suffering from certain mental illnesses, and sometimes not talking is easier than trying to express thoughts and feelings that they themselves can’t piece together and understand.
Encourage outside support and know that you alone can’t fix it- Seeing people we love in pain is hard, especially when we can’t relate to their struggle. We may want to fix their problems and be their support system. But the truth is that no one person can fix another, no one person can alone support the weight of their own burdens and someone else’s. The best thing we can do to help the people we love is to build a community around ourselves and them. People with mental illnesses can greatly benefit from knowing that they are not alone in their diagnosis, their daily struggles, their ups and downs, their triggers; having a healthy system of support in place can give them access to new ways of coping and brainstorming, as well as emotional validation that can breathe hope into their most desperate moments. Similarly, when a person you love is struggling with mental illness you also need the support of your community; if the expectation for our loved ones is to reach out when they need help, we also need to be held to that standard.
Remember that people with mental illnesses are not suddenly different people because they are sick. When they’re struggling they aren’t monsters, when they get better they are not new people…but our feelings and our situations can trick us into thinking so. Mental illnesses are illnesses, and sometimes they can changes someone’s circumstances…they can even change their personalities for a time, change their interests, their spirit. But they are the same person you have always loved, and they need you to see that person in them—even when they can’t see themselves clearly. Using person-first language can help keep us from defining our loved ones by their struggles, and can help us stay focused on hope.