It can be scary when someone you love is sick. It can be especially scary if they’re diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s hard to see someone you love in pain and it’s confusing when someone you know well is not acting like themselves. You know how you would take care of them if they had a cold or flu, but what do you do for a mental illness? Like any other health problem, someone with a mental illness needs extra love and support. You may not be able to see the illness, but it doesn’t mean that you’re powerless to help.
How can I help?
Research confirms that support from family and friends is a key part of helping someone who is going through a mental illness. This support provides a network of practical and emotional help. These networks can be made up of parents, children, siblings, spouses or partners, extended families, close friends and others who care about us like neighbours, coworkers, coaches and teachers. Some people have larger networks than others, but most of us have at least a few people who are there for us when we need them.
There are a number of major ways that family and friends can help in someone’s journey of recovery from a mental illness:
Knowing when something is wrong—or right: Getting help early is an important part of treating mental illness. Family and friends are often the first ones to notice that something is wrong. See “How do I know when to help?” on the next page for signs to watch for. Finding a treatment that works is often a process of trial and error, so family members may also be the first to see signs of improvement.
How do I do this?
- TIP: Learn more about the signs and symptoms of different mental illnesses. Also learn more about how treatments work so that you know what side effects you may see, when to look for improvements and which ones to look for first. A recent review found that when the family is educated about the illness, the rates of relapse in their loved ones were reduced by half in the first year.
Seeking help: Families and friends can be important advocates to help loved ones get through those hard, early stages of having a mental illness. They can help their loved one find out what treatment is best for them. They can also be key in letting professionals know what’s going on, filling in parts of the picture that the person who’s ill may not be well enough to describe on their own.
How do I do this?
- TIP: Offer to make those first appointments with a family doctor to find out what’s wrong or accompany your loved one to the doctor—these steps can be hard if your loved one doesn’t have much energy or experiences problems with concentration. If you do accompany the person, work with them to write down any notes or questions either of you have in advance so that you cover all the major points. If your loved one wants to do it on their own, show them your support and ask them if there’s anything you could do to help.
- TIP: You can’t always prevent a mental health crisis from happening. If your loved one needs to go to hospital, try and encourage them to go on their own. If you’re concerned that your loved one is at risk of harm, they may receive treatment under BC’s Mental Health Act. It may be necessary in certain cases, but involuntary treatment can be complicated and traumatic for everyone. To learn more about the Mental Health Act, see the “Coping with Mental Health Crises and Emergencies” info sheet.
Helping with medications, appointments and treatments: If you spend a lot of time around your loved ones, you can help them remember to take their medications. You may also be able to help tell a doctor why medications aren’t being taken as they should be. Similarly, you may be involved in reminding your loved one to do their counselling homework or use their light therapy treatment each morning, or reminding your loved one to make or keep appointments for treatment.
How do I do this?
- TIP: If you notice that your loved one is having trouble taking their medication, you can encourage them to talk to their doctor or pharmacist. They can suggest ways to make pill taking easier. If there are other problems with taking medicine, such as side effects, encourage your loved one to write down their concerns and questions and talk to their doctor. If they don’t have a good relationship with their doctor, help them find a new one. If cost is a barrier, learn about BC’s no-charge psychiatric medication coverage called Plan G.
Supporting a healthy lifestyle: Families can also help with day-to-day factors such as finances, problem solving, housing, nutrition, recreation and exercise, and proper sleeping habits.
How do I do this?
- TIP: See our Wellness Modules at http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca for practical tips on how to have a healthy lifestyle for both you and your loved one. Case managers and peer support workers at mental health centres in your community may be able to help with life skills training as well as connections to income and housing.
Providing emotional support: You can play an important role in helping someone who’s not feeling well feel less alone and ashamed. They are not to blame for their illness, but they may feel that they are, or may be getting that message from others. You can help encourage hope.
How do I do this?
- TIP: Try to be as supportive, understanding and patient as possible. See our “Where do I go from here?” section for resources on how to be a good communicator.
- TIP: Taking care of an ill family member or friend can be stressful. Remember that you need emotional support, too. Consider joining a support group for family members of people with mental illness. There, you can connect with other people going through the same things and they can help you work through your own emotions. It’s very important to make sure you are taking care of your own mental health as well.
Some signs that a friend or family member may have a mental illness and could need your help are:
“Tom’s recovery has been an exercise in patience, love and understanding. We take one step forward and stumble two steps back; baby steps—small increments of success, tiny improvements of things we would ordinarily take for granted—are things we celebrate. When Tom smiles, cracks a joke or declares that he wants to go for a run, they are positive, encouraging signs: baby steps forward.”
—Family member from Family Toolkit
“The most important thing [families] have to do is accept you completely, with all your faults. Families can help by saying ‘You’re okay, we love you, and you’ll get better”
—Mariam, 31 in recovery from clinical depression
If you need advice on how to get your loved one the help they need, there are a number of resources available to you.
Other helpful resources are:
BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information
Visit www.heretohelp.bc.ca for info sheets and personal stories on supporting loved ones. You’ll also find more information, tips and self-tests to help you understand many different mental health problems.
Alzheimer Society of BC
Visit www.alzheimerbc.org or call 1-800-936-6033 (toll-free in BC) for information and community resources for individuals and families with dementia.
Visit www.anxietybc.com or call 604-525-7566 for information, tools, and community resources on anxiety.
British Columbia Schizophrenia Society
Visit www.bcss.org or call 1-888-888-0029 (toll-free in BC) or 604-270-7841 (in Greater Vancouver) for information and community resources on schizophrenia and other major mental illnesses and support for families.
Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division
Visit www.cmha.bc.ca or call 1-800-555-8222 (toll-free in BC) or 604-688-3234 (in Greater Vancouver) for information and community resources on mental health and mental illnesses.
FORCE Society for Kids’ Mental Health
Visit.www.forcesociety.com or call 1-855-887-8004 (toll-free in BC) or 604-878-3400 (in the Lower Mainland) for information and resources that support parents of a young person with mental illness.
Jessie’s Legacy at Family Services of the North Shore
Visit www.familyservices.bc.ca or call 1-888-988-5281 ext. 204 (toll-free in BC) or 604-988-5281 ext. 204 (in Greater Vancouver) for information and resources on body image and prevention of eating disorders.
Kelty Mental Health
Contact Kelty Mental Health at www.keltymentalhealth.ca or 1-800-665-1822 (toll-free in BC) or 604-875-2084 (in Greater Vancouver) for information, referrals and support for children, youth and their families in all areas of mental health and addictions.
Mood Disorders Association of BC
Visit www.mdabc.net or call 604-873-0103 (in the Lower Mainland) or 1-855-282-7979 (in the rest of BC) for resources and information on mood disorders. You’ll also find more information on support groups around the province.
Resources available in many languages:
*For each service below, if English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.
If you are in distress or are worried about someone in distress who may hurt themselves, call 1-800-SUICIDE 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal.
- “National Alliance on Mental Health”.
- “Psychosocial Treatments”. nami.org.
- “Our Structure”.
- “Find Your Local NAMI”. http://www.nami.org. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
- Harris, Gardiner. “Drug Makers Are Advocacy Group’s Biggest Donors”. New York Times. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
- “NAMI Our Finances”.
- “Publications and Reports”.
- “Major Foundation and Corporate Contribution Registry, 4th Quarter 2018” (PDF). Retrieved 15 April 2019.
- “NAMI HelpLine”.
- “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 2014-06-02. Retrieved 2014-06-01.
- Shrader, Emily (December 15, 2011). The History of NAMI National, NAMI Pennsylvania, and NAMI PA Cumberland and Perry Counties (PDF).
- Shrader, Emily (December 15, 2011). The History of NAMI National, NAMI Pennsylvania, and NAMI PA Cumberland and Perry Counties (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-14. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
- “History :: NAMI Dane County”. NAMI Dade County. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- “What does the NAMI acronym stand for?”. NAMI Metro – Oakland, Wayne, Macomb Counties in Southeastern Michigan. Retrieved 4 August 2017.
- “NAMI: Our Structure”.
- “NAMI announces new executive director”. Mental Health Weekly: 6. 9 December 2013.
- “Senior Leadership: Mary Giliberti”.
- “2017 NAMI Annual Report” (PDF).
- Anderson, Patrick. “NAMI Sioux Falls to merge with state office”. USA TODAY. Retrieved 2020-02-25.
- “NAMI Calls For Increased Funding For Research Of Serious Brain Disorders”. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- “NAMI Anosognosia”. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- “New Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs Recommended As First-Line Medications For People With Serious Brain Disorders”. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- “How we talk about NAMI”. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- “Joyce Burland, Ph.D.” nami.org. Archived from the original on 13 May 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- “NAMI Family-to-Family”. NAMI. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- Dixon, Lisa (June 2011). “Outcomes of a Randomized Study of a Peer-Taught Family-to-Family Education Program for Mental Illness”. Psychiatric Services. 62 (6): 591–597. doi:10.1176/ps.62.6.pss6206_0591. PMC 4749398. PMID 21632725.
- Lucksted, Alicia (June 1, 2012). “Sustained outcomes of a peer-taught family education program on mental illness”. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 127 (4): 279–286. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0447.2012.01901.x. PMC 5717754. PMID 22804103.
- Lucksted, Alicia (2008). “Benefits and changes for family to family graduates”. American Journal of Community Psychology. 42 (1–2): 154–166. doi:10.1007/s10464-008-9195-7. PMID 18597167.
- Marcus, Sue (August 2013). “Generalizability in the Family-to- Family Education Program Randomized Waitlist-Control Trial”. Psychiatric Services. 64 (8): 754–763. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.002912012. PMC 5639322. PMID 23633161.
- Yildirim, Arzu (March 13, 2013). “The Effect of Family-to-Family Support Programs Provided for Families of Schizophrenic Patients on Information about Illness, Family Burden, and Self-efficacy”. Turkish Journal of Psychiatry. 25 (1): 31–37. doi:10.5080/u7194. PMID 24590847.
- “National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family-to-Family Education Program”. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Substance abuse and Mental Health Administration. Archived from the original on 19 July 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- “NREPP SAMHSA”. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- “NAMI Peer-to-Peer”. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- Lucksted, Alicia (2009). “Initial Evaluation of the Peer-to-Peer Program”. Psychiatric Services. 60 (2): 250–3. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.60.2.250. PMID 19176421.
- Roberts, LJ (1999). “Giving and receiving help: interpersonal transactions in mutual-help meetings and psychosocial adjustment of members”. American Journal of Community Psychiatry. 6 (27): 841–868.
- “In Our Own Voice Living With Mental Illness NAMI Consumer Program Named In Honor of Nationally-Recognized Idaho Documentary”. Missing or empty
- “NAMI In Our Own Voice General Information”. NAMI.org. Archived from the original on 28 January 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
- Perlick, D. A.; Nelson, A. H.; Mattias, K; Selzer, J; Kalvin, C; Wilber, C. H.; Huntington, B; Holman, C. S.; Corrigan, P. W. (December 2011). “In Our Own Voice–Family Companion: Reducing Self-Stigma of Family Members of Persons With Serious Mental Illness”. Psychiatric Services. 62 (12): 1456–1462. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.001222011. PMID 22193793.
- Pittman, JO (Winter 2010). “Evaluating the Effectiveness of a Consumer Delivered Anti-Stigma Program: Replication with Graduate-Level Helping Professionals”. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal. 33 (3): 236–238. doi:10.2975/33.3.2010.236.238. PMID 20061261.
- Pinto-Foltz, Melissa (June 2011). “Feasibility, acceptability, and initial efficacy of a knowledge-contact program to reduce mental illness stigma and improve mental health literacy in adolescents”. Social Science & Medicine. 72 (12): 2011–2019. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.04.006. PMC 3117936. PMID 21624729.
- Wong, Eunice; Collins, Rebecca L.; Cerully, Jennifer L.; Roth, Elizabeth; Marks, Joyce; Yu, Jennifer (2016). “Effects of Stigma and Discrimination Reduction Trainings Conducted Under the California Mental Health Services Authority An Evaluation of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Adult Programs”. Rand Health Quarterly. 5 (4): 9. PMC 5158224. PMID 28083419.
- “Mental Illness Exacts Heavy Toll, Beginning in Youth”. National Institute of Mental Health. National Institute of Health. June 6, 2005. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
- Gruttadaro, Darcy. “College Students Speak: A Survey Report on Mental Health”. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
- “NAMI Ending the Silence”.
- “Guidelines for Business Support Relationships” (PDF). NAMI National Board of Directors Operating Policies and Procedures. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- “Major Foundation and Corporate Support”. nami.org. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- Richard Gosden and Sharon Beder Pharmaceutical Industry Agenda Setting in Mental Health Policies Ethical Human Sciences and Services 3(3) Fall/Winter 2001, pp. 147-159. Dr. Peter Breggin. https://breggin.com/dr-peter-breggins-mission-statement/.