7 Mistakes Families Make During Their Loved One’s Mental Health Treatment

7 Mistakes Families Make During Their Loved One’s Mental Health Treatment

1. Not Giving Your Loved One Enough “Recovery Space”

Families must find the right balance between ensuring their loved one adheres to their mental health treatment plan (e.g. taking their medication or attending counseling sessions) while also giving them enough room to recover and sufficient trust to grow. A casual but caring approach and tone often works well to check your loved one is on track.

For example, you could ask a question like “Would you like a snack before you take your medication?” rather than flat-out asking “Have you taken your medicine today?”

2. Taking Symptoms Personally

If your family member has a mental health condition, it likely caused them to lash out or engage in other negative behavior directed at those closest to them. When your loved one is acting out or being aggressive or manipulative, remind yourself that it isn’t them – it’s a symptom of the illness.

Instead of taking your loved one’s moods personally or confronting them in that moment, consider how their mental state is coloring what they say and do. Have compassion for that. Don’t engage with hostility or argue back – that always escalates the problem. Remove yourself from the situation if it’s overwhelming and return when the drama has died down.

3. Expecting Too Much, Too Soon

Mental health treatment is an ongoing process. Many illnesses benefit from medication, and it can take some trial and error before an effective one is found – and even the right drug can take weeks or months to arrive at the best dosage. In the meantime, your loved one may be suffering from unwanted side effects of medicines that happen to not suit them while pouring their heart out to a counselor about painful things that they have kept locked away for years. It’s not an easy process, although healing is always a journey that is worth it in the end.

Have patience while your loved one is undergoing treatment.

Don’t necessarily expect it to be a quick nor easy ride. Your loved one may feel that they have disappointed you if you expect big changes after only a few sessions of therapy or a couple of weeks on medication. Healing takes as long as it takes.

Be patient, celebrate the small successes and breakthroughs with your loved one, but don’t assume they’re “well” yet just because they’ve begun progressing in treatment.

4. Dwelling on the Problems

When a loved one has a mental health issue, sometimes families can focus too much on the problems, rather than solutions. If the symptoms of a mental health issue are causing difficulties in the home, instead of complaining about them, families should actively seek out solutions and workarounds where possible. If there are squabbles between family members over certain issues, agree to compromises. Avoid topics that are contentious and turn conversations to things that interest everyone in the family.

5. Not Having Fun

Just because your loved one is working through some problems, it doesn’t mean that your life should be put on hold. There may be limits to what you can do, depending on the nature of the problem, but there will still be plenty of good things you can do – both together and apart – to enjoy life. Don’t forgo your favorite hobbies just because your loved one is going through treatment. You need that time to let go, forget your troubles and boost your own mental health.

Your loved one’s treatment period is a good time for you both to bond over fun things, too. Find out what you have in common and when they feel up to it, spend time doing that, whether it’s cooking, sports, going to the movies or outdoor excursions. Again, it’s important not to push things. Meet your loved one where they are. If they only want to flop in front of the TV with you, then grab their favorite comfort food and join them.

6. Being Too Afraid to Ask Questions

By all means, read books and articles about your family member’s mental health problem, so you understand more about their specific issue. But nothing beats actually asking your loved one what their experience is like, since everyone’s symptoms vary slightly and may be felt in unique ways. Asking questions will help you to better understand your loved one’s behaviors, and you can even relate what they say back to examples you remember from the past that ended negatively. Perhaps this can help you both to avoid situations like that in the future.

Again, getting this right is a matter of balance. Don’t push when they don’t feel like talking, but at moments when they seem communicative, asking a few well-meaning questions can help your loved one know that you’re trying your best to support them and also helps you understand what their experience is.

7. Not Changing Yourself

Mental health problems in a family member can sometimes be exacerbated by the way that the family has been acting as a unit. Changing your own behaviors can help to ease some of the problems your loved one faces. Do you need to give them more quality time, more responsibility, freedom, validate them or listen to them more?

Dealing with the challenge of a loved one with mental health problems is the perfect opportunity to grow as a person yourself – don’t waste it.

How can this teach you to become stronger, more compassionate, more understanding and develop yourself on a personal level? Setbacks and challenges in our environment are chances for us to make something positive grow. How can you grow to be a better person from now on?


Written by Beth Burgess