Tips for Caregivers
There are 60 million Americans providing unpaid care to a family member, friend, or neighbor living with a physical or mental illness.1 When a friend or family member develops a mental health condition, it’s common for them and their caregiver to feel alone.2 The information below is meant to help caregivers better understand their situation and how they can help their loved ones care for themselves.3
- Learn about mental health in general, your loved one’s specific condition, and what to do in case of an emergency.4
- Encourage your loved one to follow their treatment plan. This can be done by simply offering transportation to their therapy session or asking how their session went. Discuss the kinds of questions your loved one is okay with answering.
Continue “normal” activities and routines
- It may be your first instinct to allow your loved one’s mental health condition to take up all of your time. Create activities and/or outings that are unrelated to mental illnesses, such as going out to eat, taking a walk in the park, working out, or watching a movie.
- Use direct, simple, clear language to foster a productive conversation that can lead to a positive outcome with your loved one.5
Create a safety plan
- Make sure to have the contact information of your local crisis intervention team, 911, and therapist/psychiatrist on hand in an accessible place. Your loved one should be included in the creation of this document, and it should be shared with any family or friend who would benefit from the knowledge.6
Seek out resources for support
- Family and friends may sometimes struggle with seeking help by giving into the stigma about mental health. Having a support system available helps families and friends gain both valuable knowledge and inner strength.7 Do not feel guilty about seeking outside help. Reassure yourself that you are trying to find the best care for your loved one.
- If suicidal thoughts have been mentioned or an attempt has been made, have the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) number on hand. Listening and talking about suicide can reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts and help calm down the situation.
- Being a caregiver comes with its own difficulties, and it is important to stay educated, not only on how to care for your loved one, but also on how to care for yourself.8 Caring for another should not come at the expense of your own health. Don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself and consider taking a mental health screening or finding a local mental health professional within your state.
Protect your physical health
- It’s common to put all your energy into taking care of your loved one, but it’s important to take time out of “caregiver mode” and dedicate time to yourself. Your physical health is the foundation for your mental health; maintaining good eating and sleeping habits are a must, and relaxation exercises can become a beneficial practice for your mental health.9
If you or a loved one is having a mental health crisis, know that there is help. Go to the nearest hospital, emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK or text HELLO to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to reach someone live. You can also call 911 for immediate assistance. If you are living outside of the U.S., see a full list of country-specific suicide hotlines here.
1Presidential Proclamation -- National Family Caregivers Month, 2014.” Proclamations, Barack Obama, 1 Nov. 2014. 2Zarit, S, et al. “Caregiving.” Encyclopedia of Mental Health. Academic Press, 2016. 233–239. 3“For Parents and Caregivers.” MentalHealth.gov. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 26 Sept. 2017. Web Jan. 2018. http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/parents-caregivers. 4“For Friends and Family Members.” MentalHealth.gov. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 26 Sept. 2017. Web Jan. 2018. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members. 5“For Parents and Caregivers.” MentalHealth.gov. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 26 Sept. 2017. Web Jan. 2018. http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/parents-caregivers. 6“For Parents and Caregivers.” MentalHealth.gov, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 26 Sept. 2017. Web Jan. 2018. http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/parents-caregivers. 7Ahmedani, B. “Mental Health Stigma: Society, Individuals, and the Profession.” J Soc Work Values Ethics Volume 2(8). (2011). 8Zarit, S, et al. “Caregiving.” Encyclopedia of Mental Health. Academic Press, 2016. 233–239. 9Zarit, S, et al. “Caregiving.” Encyclopedia of Mental Health. Academic Press, 2016. 233–239.