Being a caregiver for a person in mental health distress can be complex and challenging, says Gillian Gray, Program Manager, Family Outreach & Response CMHA Toronto. Among the many challenges caregivers face is finding the right balance between providing conscientious care and supporting independence.
“Two of the key components in recovery are personal responsibility and self-efficacy,” says Gray. “That’s why it’s important to make room for choice whenever possible. It’s also important to remind the person of his strengths and skills, and provide opportunities to highlight those strengths.”
When you’re caring for someone in crisis, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and lose sight of her underlying abilities. “Don’t assume that the person is not capable of doing something,” says Gray. “She may be having more difficulty than previously, but it could be a question of breaking down the activity into small, achievable steps to help her get back to doing things she enjoys.”
Other valuable advice from Gray:
- Talk to the person you are caring for about when it’s okay for you to be involved in his treatment, and when it’s not okay.
- Always say when a person’s behavior is not okay with you – when you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, or she is not respecting one of your boundaries.
- When the person you are caring for experiences delusions or paranoia, don’t argue about the content of his thoughts: instead, connect with the feelings and needs he’s expressing.
- If the person you’re caring for has unusual behaviors but they’re not distressing to you or others, don’t let embarrassment get in the way of your relationship.
- If the person you’re caring for resists taking medication, remember that medication is only one tool in recovery: there are many other approaches that are helpful. Talk to the person about why he doesn’t want to take the treatment and what he thinks would help his recovery.
Above all, Gray says caregivers should strive to be “a source of hope and possibility” for the person they are caring for. She points to one story of recovery that began with a young woman sitting alone in her room. Each day her grandmother would ask her if she would like to go shopping. Day after day, she didn’t answer or said “no.” But when she was ready to engage, her grandmother was there again with the offer, and it was a turning point in her recovery. “Try to offer an invitation for engagement or support, and then as much as you can, detach from the outcome,” Gray says. “Let the person know that there are options, but don’t make it a burden.”