Tips for families struggling with mental illness

Mental illnesses often present many challenges for family members. Periods of remission may be followed by relapses, and hope may be dashed by despair. Family members can play a critical role in helping loved ones seek help and embark on a journey of recovery, but it’s not easy!

The following list includes tips that may help families reflect on their relationships with their loved ones and the way they try to help. It is based on a webinar titled An Open Discussion with a Family Member on Borderline Personality Disorder and Improving Relationships. It is available at While BPD was the focus of the webinar, most of the tips are relevant for any mental illness.           


Tips for Caregivers

1. Allow yourself to grieve the illness and share it

 – Recognizing you are not alone can be half the battle

2. We can only change ourselves

 – We can’t change our loved one, but a change in ourselves may trigger a change in them

3. Change in attitude

– Adopting a positive attitude can help you to see challenges differently

4. Viewing the illness as a medical condition

 – Helps to be less judgmental and be more compassionate; would you be hard on someone with diabetes?

5. “Emotional Seizures”

– In mental illness the brain is misfiring; instead of the body going into convulsions think of the brain going into convulsions

6. Don’t take things personally

– Help to keep perspective, stay calm

7. Get educated

– Take classes, watch webinars, search the internet…           

8. Take care of yourself

– Think about your needs, get help and support, regain composure, do things you like

9. Join a support group, be with others who are struggling

– Feeling you are not unique or alone and sharing experiences helps to break isolation and can be very comforting

10. Read books

– Not only on mental illness; books on parenting, mindfulness, spirituality, can offer invaluable insights

11. Try to accept that you do the best you can

– Recognize your limits

12. Be compassionate

– You would likely reach out to help your loved one; have compassion for yourself too

13. Practice forgiveness

– For your loved one and for yourself

14. Be present, be in the moment

– And try to react to the ‘here and now’

15. Lose the judgment

– Accept that your loved one is doing what he can at the moment

16. Learn to validate

– Doesn’t mean you agree but you can see things from your loved one’s perspective

17. Stop fixing

–  If you try to solve your loved one’s problems and prevent the consequences of their actions they will not learn. Guide instead

18. Helping is good, enabling – not so much

  – Helping is doing something that one cannot do on his own; enabling is doing something one should do him/herself

19. Respect your loved one’s rhythm

– It may be a slow progression for your loved one to accept his illness and seek help

20. Pull back and find a balance

– You may need support from professionals

21. Be patient, plant seeds

– It takes time to change, make suggestions without judgment

22. Social media and other resources

– Blogs of patients can help you understand how they feel

23. Don’t give up

– Remember that things are dynamic and are likely to change; don’t lose hope

24. Remember: you can’t control someone else’s life, save him, or live his life

25. Join AMI programs (support groups, workshops, counseling…)