Support for Families with Anxiety, Depression, Addiction or PTSD

Mental health problems can hurt families as much as they hurt individuals. Loving someone with a mental health problem can be heartbreaking, frustrating, and sometimes exhausting. Here are some guidelines that I have found helpful when working with individuals and families. I hope they can help you.

Normal Feelings

It’s normal to have some negative feelings along with feelings of compassion and hope. These feelings can be scary or seem selfish, after all it is the other person who has the problem.

Mental health problems are family problems. They don’t exist in isolation. They affect everyone. That’s why most people will experience these feelings to some degree. Don’t be frightened by them. Use them as motivation to be helpful and at the same time to practice self-care.

  • You may feel sorry for your loved one. But they probably don’t want too much attention, and they don’t want to be treated as if they are broken.
  • You may feel angry that you both have to go through this.
  • You may feel guilty that you can’t help more.
  • You may wonder if you could have done anything different.
  • You may feel angry that they are not doing everything they can to help themselves.
  • You may wonder if you can love them as much as you did before.
  • You may worry that things will never be same, or that your family will never get back to normal.
  • You may feel exhausted and depressed.

Start the Conversation

When should you speak up and say something? You worry that if you mention your concerns too soon, they may become defensive and pull away. You worry that if you wait too long, the individual will probably suffer more consequences.

It’s never too early to have a conversation. If you have concerns, chances are something is not right. Mention your concerns in a supportive way. You must expect that they will be defensive. They will try to minimize the problem. They will try to make you the problem.

But at least you have begun the conversation. Hopefully the next time will be a little easier.

If you wait too long, you will speak out of frustration rather than caring. If you wait too long, you will probably resort to name calling, instead of being neutral. If you wait to long, you will probably make demands and use punitive measures, instead of offering positive solutions.

It’s more effective to talk about how this hurts you than how it hurts them. If you try to explain how their anxiety, depression, addiction, or PTSD is hurting them, they probably won’t listen because that is part of denial. But if you explain how this hurts you, it’s more difficult to deny.

Things You Can Do for the Individual

  • Educate yourself on the problem. Learn about anxiety, depression, addiction, or PTSD.
  • Individuals with mental health problems usually withdraw. Even if your loved one doesn’t want to talk, it helps to remind them that you are ready to listen when they will be ready to talk.
  • When your loved one is ready to open up, make sure you just listen. Nothing will kill the moment faster than you trying to offer advice. They just want to talk. Talking will help them process what they are going through. Health professionals have learned to listen far more than they talk.
  • Understand that your loved one’s behaviors such as avoidance and irritability are common in anxiety, depression, addiction, and PTSD. Understand that it’s not about you. It’s about the illness.
  • When you are frustrated, try not to accuse or judge. This will be difficult to do, but avoid name calling. It only worsens the situation. Recognize that this is a scary time for both of you.
  • Try not to be negative. That may only increase their feelings of guilt and push them to withdraw further.
  • Make sure that you both take time to relax and have fun. Recovery is hard work. Without the chance to relax and escape, recovery will feel like a grind, and you will both become exhausted. When individuals are exhausted they are more likely to relapse to old behaviors.
  • Set boundaries that the whole family can agree on. The purpose of boundaries is to improve the health and functioning of the family. Do not use boundaries to punish or shame.
  • Allow your loved one time for recovery: time for doctor’s appointments, time to do recovery homework, time to relax and meditate, time for self-help meetings, and time for fun.
  • Recognize and acknowledge the potential the individual has within them.
  • Behave as you would if your loved one had a serious illness. What would you do if they were diagnosed with heart disease or cancer?

Things You Can Do for Someone with Addiction

Addiction presents some unique problems. Here are a few more guidelines for dealing with it specifically.

  • Provide a sober environment that reduces the triggers for using.
  • Do not enable. Do not provide excuses or cover up for the individual.
  • Do not shield the individual from the consequences of their addiction. People are more likely to change if they have suffered enough negative consequences.
  • Do not argue or try to discuss things with someone when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It won’t get you anywhere.
  • If you want to provide financial support, buy the goods and services needs instead of giving them money that they might use to buy alcohol or drugs.

Understand that Your Lives Will Change

Things will not go back to the way they were. In fact, you shouldn’t wish for your old life back. You both need to create a new life where it is easier to achieve recovery.

There was probably something in your old life that wasn’t working. It didn’t cause the situation, but it may have contributed to it. For example, you may have not paid enough attention to stress management and self-care.

This is the silver lining of recovery. If used properly, it can become a positive. Your loved one’s recovery is a chance to learn healthier coping skills and have an even better life than you did before.

Things You Can Do for Yourself

  • Do not work harder than the person you’re trying to help. This is the most important guideline in family support, and it is the most effective way to decide how much or how little to do.
  • Working harder than the other person will only exhaust you and make them resent you because they will feel that you are pushing too hard.
  • If the individual doesn’t want to do anything to help themselves, you can still do something by being an example of balance and self-care.
  • Loving someone with a mental health condition can be exhausting even when there are not many obstacles. You also need time to recover. Take care of yourself.
  • Avoid self-blame. You can’t control another person’s decisions, and you can’t force them to change.
  • Being a caretaker is not good for you or the other person. Understand that there is only so much you can do.
  • Ask for help. Talk to a professional. Go to a support group. You may need as much support as they do.

The Three C’s of Dealing with Someone with a Mental Health Problem

  • You didn't Cause the problem.
  • You can't Control the problem.
  • You can't Cure the problem.

You can’t stop depression for another person.
You can’t stop drinking for another person.
You can’t stop PTSD for another person.

Only they can do the work.

Last Modified: August 6, 2018