As debilitating diseases, anxiety disorders bring about profound changes in the way that sufferers relate to themselves and other people, and in the way that family and friends respond to the sufferer.
Although combination therapies involving medication and psychological intervention have been shown to be successful in treating up to 90% of anxiety disorder sufferers, emotional and social support are necessary (and vital) adjuncts to any treatment. The very nature of these disorders entails the giving of support by family and friends to be difficult at times, as it is the receiving of this support by the sufferer.
Following are points that should be kept in mind when dealing with anxiety disorders – successful coping strategies can be developed by including attention to these areas, enabling both the sufferer and those providing support to overcome the disorders more easily.
1. You cannot cure a mental disorder for a family member. Despite your best efforts, symptoms may get worse, or may improve.
2. It is as hard for the individual to accept the disorder as it is for other family members to do so.
3. Acceptance of the disorder by all involved will be helpful , but is not necessary.
4. You may learn something about yourself as you learn about a family member’s mental disorder.
5. Separate the person from the disorder. Love the person even if you hate the disorder.
6. Separate medication side effects from the disorder and the person.
7. It is not OK for you to be neglected. You have needs and desires that must be met.
8. Your chances of getting a mental illness as a sibling or adult child of someone suffering from a mental illness are 10 – 14%. If you are older than 30, there is a negligible risk for schizophrenia.
9. Your chances are of becoming ill are between two and four times higher than the general population.
10. The illness of a family member is nothing to be ashamed of. This must be remembered since you may encounter discrimination from an apprehensive audience.
11. No one is to blame for the illness.
12. Do not forget your sense of humour.
13. It may be necessary to renegotiate your emotional relationships.
14. It may be necessary to revise your expectations.
15. Success for each individual may be different.
16. Acknowledge the remarkable courage your family member may show in dealing with a mental disorder.
17. Survival-oriented response is often one that shuts down your emotional life – resist this.
18. Inability to talk about feelings may leave you stuck or frozen.
19. Generally, those closest in sibling order and gender become emotionally enmeshed, while those further out become estranged.
20. Grief issues for siblings are about what you had and lost. For adult children the issues area about what was never had.
21. After denial, sadness and anger comes acceptance. The addition of understanding yields compassion.
22. Mental illnesses, like other diseases, are a part of the varied fabric of life.
23. Mental illness is a disease with biological, psychological and social components.
24. It is absurd to believe you may correct a physical illness such as diabetes, schizophrenia, or manic-depression solely through talking, although addressing social complications may be helpful.
25. Symptoms may change over time while the underlying disorder remains.
26. The disorder may be periodic, with times of improvement and deterioration independent of hopes and actions.
27. You should request the diagnosis and it’s explanation from professionals.
28. Identical diagnoses do not mean identical causes, courses, or symptoms.
29. Strange behaviour is a symptom of the disorder. Do not take it personally.
30. You have the right to assure your personal safety.
31. You are not a paid professional care worker. Work with the sufferer to voice your concerns. Maintain your roles as the sibling, child or parent of the individual.
32. Mental health professionals, family members and the disordered all experience ups and downs when dealing with a mental disorder.
33. Forgive yourself and others for mistakes made.
34. Mental health professionals have varied degrees of competence,
35. If you cannot care for yourself, you cannot care of another.
36. You may eventually forgive your family member for having a mental illness.
37. The needs of the ill person do not necessarily come first.
38. It is important to establish boundaries and set clear limits.
39. It may be therapeutic for you to help others if you cannot help your family member.
40. Recognising that a person has limited capabilities should not mean that you expect nothing of them.
41. Do not be afraid to ask your family member if he or she is thinking about causing injury to themselves. A suicide rate of 10% is based on it happening to real people – your own relative could be one. Discuss it so as to avoid it.
42. Your conflicted relationship may spill over into your relationships with others. You may unconsciously become resentful towards others.
43. It is natural to experience a series of emotions such as grief, guilt, fear, anger sadness, confusion, hurt etc. You, not the ill member, are responsible for your own feelings.
44. Eventually you may see the silver lining in the storm clouds: increased awareness, sensitivity, receptivity, compassion, maturity and becoming less judgmental and self-centered.
45. You are not alone. Join your local support group.