Don't let others' mental illnesses overwhelm you; Caregivers Corner
Capital - 9/17/2017
Dear Mary, I am in the middle of a chaotic family situation right now and don't know where to turn. My brother has become addicted to pain medication which has affected his own family life and his job. My mother is spending all of her time and money on the home shopping channels. And my father has dementia, a situation which no one else in the family seems to be addressing. I feel like I am being swallowed up by everyone's problems.
Dear Reader, You have certainly learned first-hand that mental illnesses are of different types and different degrees of severity. Mental illnesses can be categorized as legal and illegal drug addictions, shopping and gambling addictions, eating and obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety and/or depression, as well schizophrenia, bi-polar and other disorders.
Unfortunately, there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution when dealing with various mental illnesses and various family members. What works for your mother may not work for your brother. It is important for you to understand that while caring for and supporting your family members, you may face your own emotional issues from time to time.
Before you tackle their care, make sure you are looking after yourself and your own well-being. Research has shown that caregivers who take care of their own physical and emotional health are better able to handle the challenges of caring for someone with a mental illness.
Caring for yourself will allow you to become more resilient and better able to handle the ups and downs of supporting your family. Understand how stress affects you and make sure you take time to recharge yourself on a regular basis. Practice good mental health habits: avoid guilt, take time to notice the positive moments and gather your own support system.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness Anne Arundel County offers education and support programs for families and individuals living with a mental illness. You can find out more information on their website at www.namiaac.org/about/about-namiaac or by calling 443-569-3498.
The Department of Aging and Disabilities has a compilation of community support groups that list other mental health support groups in Anne Arundel County. You can access the booklet online at www.aacounty.org/services-and-programs/national-family-caregiver-support-program. You can also call the department at 410-222-4375 for a copy of the booklet.
While you have already noticed the effects of their addictions, try not to let your imagination jump to the worst-case scenario. Express your concerns to your mother and brother and help them explore what has happened that might be affecting their behavior. Strongly encourage both of them to seek help. If they are hesitant to see a professional, whether it is a mental health specialist or a trusted physician, offer to accompany them; if they still hesitate, you can share your concerns with their physicians. Even if the physicians or specialists are not able to share information with you, it is helpful for them to know what's happening.
Just as I encourage caregivers dealing with dementia or other chronic illnesses, I encourage you to educate yourself. The more you know about what to expect, the easier it will be to provide support without enabling.
Be patient; their illnesses did not occur overnight, and you can't expect them to go away overnight either; recovery is a process. Be supportive but don't take charge; encourage their self-sufficiency.
If you feel your mother and brother are currently unable to deal with your father's diagnosis, talk to your father's physician and gather as much information as possible. You'll want to know what his level of care is and what you can expect in the future. Check out the support groups and educational programs offered by the Department of Aging and Disabilities. Share that information with your mother who may be overwhelmed by your father's diagnoses; let her know that you are there to help her deal with his illness. She may also be overwhelmed by your brother's issues so, again, let her that even though you cannot solve the problem, you are there to help.
Please join me at the Oct. 5 workshop, Caring for Someone with a Mental Illness. Kim Burton, director of older adult programs at the Maryland Coalition on Mental Health and Aging, will share coping skills to help you become more resilient as you provide care.
The workshop will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Pascal Senior Activity Center, 125 Dorsey Road in Glen Burnie. You can register online at www.aacounty.org/aging or by calling 410-222-4375.
Questions and comments can be sent to Mary Chaput at the Department of Aging and Disabilities, 7320 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, MD 21061, or by contacting 410-222-4339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Credit: Mary Chaput - Questions and comments can be sent to Mary Chaput at the Department of Aging and Disabilities, 7320 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, MD 21061, or by contacting 410-222-4339 or email@example.com.