Learn about mental disorders
Living with a person suffering from mental illness
Mental illness does not only affect those who have it. It can also disrupt the daily lives of their family members and loved ones.
It is normal to feel different emotions, such as anxiety, anger, frustration or sadness if you live with someone who has a mental illness. You may also feel these emotions if you support someone with a mental illness but don’t live with them.
You may feel ill-equipped to deal with the symptoms or effects of the mental illness on the person’s health or living situation. Everyone reacts differently. For example:
- Some parents may feel a sense of guilt for their child’s illness;
- Family members may wonder whether they will develop the same illness;
- Loved ones might feel impatient or discouraged when the person’s condition does not seem to improve;
- Loved ones might worry and have questions about the new responsibilities they will have to take on.
These reactions are perfectly normal. However, if you feel distress, do not wait for the situation to become critical to act. Find out right now what you can do and what resources are available in case you need them.
Advice for helping someone with a mental illness
If you want to help someone with a mental illness or associated symptoms, take the following advice:
To feel confident and have a better understanding of the mental illness and associated symptoms, you can do the following:
- Read books, papers or articles from reliable sources on the matter;
- Listen to programs or podcasts on the matter;
- Attend conferences or training activities;
- Participate in meetings with support groups for loved ones of people with mental illness.
You can also refer to the About mental disorders page.
Develop a helpful approach toward the person suffering
Several approaches can help you establish or maintain a good relationship with the person, for example:
- Try to put yourself in their shoes and understanding what they are going through. Show empathy. Avoid lecturing them, minimizing their experience or dictating what you would do in their place.
- Congratulate them on the positive changes they make, for example, through lifestyle changes, and encourage their efforts.
- Be patient. Remember that sometimes the road to recovery is difficult and there may be setbacks.
Say what you think in a positive way
When you want to say what you think, let your personal feelings guide you in expressing your opinions and reactions. Use “I” instead of “you.” This way, the person is less likely to react with denial or to be defensive. For example, you can say, “I am worried that you are always in your room and you barely eat. I am sad about what is happening to you” rather than “You barely eat, you’re always in your room, what do you think will happen to you?”
Encourage the person suffering to seek help when necessary
People with mental illness can experience periods of instability on the road to recovery. When necessary, encourage them to see support groups or mental health organizations or associations. They could get information, help and support from those resources. If they are already seeing a health and social services professional, you can encourage them to contact that person if they feel the need.
If they refuse to seek help, be patient and keep listening. You can talk with them to better understand their needs and try to find a way to meet them together. If you feel comfortable, offer to go with them. This might encourage them to seek help.
You or another loved one might notice the person is reacting or behaving in an unusual way. This could be a sign that it is necessary for them to consult a doctor or other health and social services professional.
Here are a few examples of changes you might notice:
- They increasingly isolate themselves;
- They have trouble sleeping or eating;
- Their drinking or drug use increases;
- They have difficulty expressing themselves or concentrating;
- They appear distant (have a vacant expression);
- They say things that seem unusual or don’t make sense (feel someone is spying on them, believe they have magical powers, receive messages from the television or radio, etc.);
- They hear voices or see things that you don’t.
If your loved one’s situation is worrisome or it deteriorates, it is important to seek help. See the Mental health help and support resources page to find out what resources are available.
Advice to help you
Living with a person suffering from mental illness or accompanying a person on their road to recovery is not always easy. Here is some advice to help you cope:
Express your feelings
The loved ones of a person with a mental illness may experience feelings such as anger, sadness or guilt. Avoid repressing or ignoring your feelings. Try to find good listeners with whom you can share your feelings without holding back or feeling guilty. These might be good friends or a support group for loved ones of people with mental illness.
Take care of yourself
Your physical and mental health are important. Being in good health will help you stay balanced and cope better with your loved one. Apply the tips for Maintaining good mental health.
Solve one problem at a time
Living with a person suffering from a mental illness or accompanying such a person on the road to recovery can present challenges and lead to interpersonal conflicts. In a conflict situation, avoid trying to solve all the problems you are experiencing at the same time. Instead, confront problems one at a time and find a simple solution for each. Ask for help, support and advice, as needed.
Respect your limits and seek help when necessary
We all have personal limits. When you do not respect those limits, you risk adversely affecting your health, which is not helpful to your loved one. Be aware of your personal limits, voice them and respect them, even if it is not easy.
If necessary, seek information and support from aid resources, including those for loved ones of people with mental illness. You will also be able to meet other people who are experiencing or have experienced situations similar to your own. Talking with these people might help you better understand your feelings and identify ways to better respect your limits.
See the Mental health help and support resources page to find out what resources are available to you.
Last update: December 13, 2021