5 Tips for Coping with a Loved One’s Mental Illness

Hi, I’m Angela, I have a husband with bipolar 2 disorder, my kids have ADHD, and I myself have struggled with depression—YOU’RE NOT ALONE! This week’s mental health tips addresses coping with a loved one’s mental illness.

An estimated 44 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder in a given year. Even with numbers like that, most family members are not prepared to cope with their loved ones diagnosis, and what that means for the family.

Honestly, at times it is physically and emotionally exhausting. I’m a problem solver at heart, so I’m always looking for ways to make their lives better. At the same time, I can feel angry when I hear people put a positive spin on a mental health disorder. It’s hard to see the positive when you are watching your loved one suffer.

The bottom line is that mental illness doesn’t just affect the person with the diagnosis, it affects their families. And we need practical tips for coping…

  1. Set Realistic Expectations: Think of the illness as something that they will manage, like someone manages diabetes. You have the opportunity to be a big support to the management. Don’t expect them to be “cured” with medication. It’s easy to buy into the idea that we can get a “before and after” story with mental illness. When Michael is struggling with a certain symptom people might say to me, “Can’t they do something?” Well, yes, and no. A lot of his symptoms went away with medication, and at the same time, a lot of them didn’t. We are always looking for ways to tweak things to improve life for him and our family. If you are looking for a quick fix, you will have trouble coping.
  2. Acceptance: Sounds easy right? It’s not. It will take time to accept, but it’s easier to process your grief if you accept the situation.
  3. Educate Yourself: Hands down one of the best choices I made. I did this through counseling, reading books—both memoirs and mental health education, and by asking a lot of questions. I asked Michael the first thing I changed once I understood bipolar disorder. He said I became a lot more patient. If we can give that gift to one another, it’s going to make coping a lot easier.
  4. Don’t over-identify or minimize the diagnosis: Here’s what I mean—The person is not their mental illness. They’re your friend. Your spouse. Your child. They have an illness that they are struggling with period. On the other hand, acknowledge when the illness is making life difficult and show empathy.
  5. Prayer: This sounds like a Sunday School answer, but prayer works. Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular specialist at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer in the field of mind/ body medicine discovered what he calls “the relaxation response,” which occurs during periods of prayer and meditation. At such times, the body’s metabolism decreases, the heart rate slows, blood pressure goes down, and our breath becomes calmer and more regular.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us…


“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

Coping with a loved one’s mental illness gets a lot easier with gratitude, prayer, and praise.

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What coping tips would you add to the list? I’d love to hear from you today, comment below.

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