A mental disorder does not only change the daily life of the person affected, but also the life of the family, close friends or partner. As a family member, you are an important part of the therapy process, but the person’s disorder can also bring many new challenges and can sometimes be very stressful for you, too. We want to support family members by making their lives easier and taking some burden off them. But doesn’t this just promote the lack of independence of the person with the disorder? And what does the illness of a close person actually do to us, and why is it so important that we also protect ourselves?
In this article, you will learn how you can better master the balancing act between support and your own health.
As a confidant, you are especially important to a person with an anxiety disorder. Always take the other person’s anxious feelings seriously and don’t make fun of them, even if the anxiety seems unfounded. Be sure to avoid phrases such as “Don’t be like that” or “Get a grip”. Instead, express your understanding and listen first.
In an acute anxiety or panic situation, the person may not be able to communicate at length. Speak in short sentences that can be answered with a nod of the head or a shake of the head. For example, you can ask, “Would it help if I sat with you?” or “Would you like me to go with you?“
It often takes a couple of years before people with the anxiety turn to a therapist. This is mainly due to the stigmatisation of mental illness and the lack of psychological help. If it is the case that people with mental illness do not seek help, you can try to talk to them. You may be honest and describe your assessment, but make sure that you remain calm, understanding and appreciative. Make it clear to the person that psychological support is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it shows courage and strength to seek help and tackle problems.
2. the right support
When a person in the family or the partner suffers from an anxiety disorder, it can often upset everyone’s plans. For example, a diversion is made to avoid a tunnel, or joint outings and leisure activities are cancelled. The whole day suddenly revolves around potentially dangerous situations and how to avoid them. It is important to make sure that this does not unconsciously reinforce avoidance behaviour. Do not take all the tasks away from the person concerned, but try to encourage him or her to face up to questionable situations. Specific goals can help the person to slowly feel their way towards overcoming the fear. Make sure that you do not put the person under pressure and acknowledge small successes. Fears can only be reduced in the long term through direct confrontation.
Explain to the person that you are always there when you are needed. But otherwise, also allow as much independence as possible.
3. gather information
In order to better understand the challenges of an anxiety disorder, it is helpful to familiarise yourself with the disorder. Here you can find an overview of different anxiety disorders.
If you still have questions, make an appointment with a psychiatrist or therapist. Ask if the person concerned would agree to you attending a session, or make the appointment alone. Find out about symptoms, medication and the treatment process. Some clinics also offer free information sessions or helplines for family members. Understanding the anxiety disorder will help you understand and better assess changes in behaviour. It also gives you an understanding of the person with the disorder. You can understand why they are suffering and that their behaviour is not a malicious act.
4. take care of yourself
The diagnosis of a mental disorder can trigger very different feelings in you as a family member: From goodwill and understanding to insecurity, helplessness and shame. No matter which feeling you encounter, take the time to deal with it.
Your support and understanding are of great importance to those affected. However, as a family member, you may also face many challenges and stresses. When you have reached your limits, or perhaps even exhausted them, it is time to protect yourself.
This is often difficult because you may feel that you are abandoning the person with the disease. Be aware that no one is helped if you also suffer more and more. It is your right to set boundaries if you feel that your health, lifestyle or well-being is being affected. Take care of yourself by socialising and incorporating things into your daily life that bring you joy. Always be mindful of how you use your strength.
5. get help
You can also protect yourself by giving up responsibility. For example, you can get professional help. Some clinics offer discussion groups for relatives, where you can talk to people in a similar situation, talk about your worries or share your experiences. Another possibility for an intensive exchange and support are self-help groups or offers from the Telefonseelsorge. You can also contact therapists yourself who can help you deal with and overcome this situation.
Here you can find out where and which self-help groups exist in Germany.
You can also make use of the services of the Telefonseelsorge: