It is possible for people living with mental illness to be in control of their illness just as it is possible for their family members to be in control of their lives. Every person is unique and mental illness affects people differently.  Some people living with mental illness can manage it rather easily.  Others – especially those with severe and persistent mental illness – may struggle to manage their illness through most of their lives.  Families differ too in how mental illness affects them and in how they manage mental illness.

Supportive families play an essential role in helping a family member cope with mental illness.  People who manage their illnesses best are often those who have a strong social network to support them.

Be prepared for emergency situations.  Know what numbers to call.  Plan how you would handle the various situations that could arise.  Talk with your family. Consider giving a family member permission to talk with your with mental health professionals, to plan for possible, future emergencies and how they should be handled.

Keep records.  Keeping clear records could prove useful in a future emergency, so try to keep a list of your health professional(s),  telephone numbers, and other important information.  Also keep track of any specific events, such as a sudden crisis.  Similarly, if you are going through a good period, note what seems to be working at this time.  Is it the medication?  A relaxed environment without undue stress?

It is important that your family members set clear limits on what behaviours they will accept.  Setting limits is about them accepting and respecting their feelings.  It’s also about them taking their own needs seriously.  Your family has the right to  be safe and comfortable in their home.

Ask a family member to help you complete a Wellness Plan.  This is a document written by a person living with mental illness.  It describes what keeps you well and identifies the warning signs for relapse for you.  It also lists all of your key contacts.  Health professionals in the Capital District Mental Health Program provide wellness plan forms to clients.  Completing a wellness plan is valuable to people living with mental illness because they identify, for themselves, what keeps them well and their warning signs of relapse.  It is also valuable because it records important information for the person living with mental illness and their family.

Adapted from: Living With Mental Illness: A Guide for Family and Friends, Capital District Health Authority, 2008