How to care for someone who is mentally ill

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Your family member or friend has been diagnosed with a mental illness. What can you do to help?

The Cape Support for Mental Health offers the following tips:

  • Empower yourself by finding out as much about the illness and its treatment as possible. Learn about how to identify early warning signs and what you should do.
  • Find a psychiatrist who specialises in the particular illness and who is recommended by families who are in a similar position – a doctor who regards carers as part of the treatment team and combines technical competence with an interest in the disease and an empathy with its sufferers.
  • Look after yourself and take care not to get swamped by the illness. Take time out, do things that you enjoy and continue with your friends and hobbies. Also remember that there are other members in the family who also have needs.
  • Don’t take personal responsibility for the illness. You haven’t caused the illness and don’t need to feel guilty. Mental illnesses are real, scientific and biological entities, much like diabetes and cancer.
  • Accept that there is no shame. Don’t keep it a secret. As long as you keep it hidden, you will never accept it yourself. You will also deprive yourself the benefit of support from others.
  • Keep expectations realistic, even if this means lowering them. The resulting positive benefit enables the family and its affected member to share and enjoy the activities and accomplishments that are within his/her capacity.
  • Join a support group in your area to share your experiences and feelings with people who are in a similar position.
  • Cape Support for Mental Health offers support to friends and families of people with serious mental illnesses. They can be contacted at (021) 671 1573 and via e-mail: capesupport@eject.co.za, and will be able to put you in touch with support groups in other areas of the country.

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