There are three basic levels of emotional responses to any mental illness, namely dealing with cat-astrophic events, learning to cope, and moving into advocacy.
A. Dealing with catastrophic events
In the first stage friends, family, and caregivers have to deal with catastrophic events that arise from the patient’s condition. It may be anything like emotional outbursts, withdrawal, memory loss, impairment in daily functioning, loss of income, legal problems, and many more. This will typically produce a crisis mode in the home characterized by chaos and shock. It is normal for the patient and his family to have some form of denial or try to normalize their behavior to yourself and others. In a sense, there is hope against all reasonable expectations. In this stage, it is important to consider…
1. the support needed,
2. the comfort of the patient and family,
3. empathy for the confusion, pain, and distress that the patient is likely experiencing,
4. providing assistance finding resources, and;
5. understand the prognosis and treatment process.
B. Learning to Cope
In the second stage, the patient and family are better equipped to start learning to cope with the mental illness. There may be feelings of anger, guilt, and resentment present, especially in-itially, which leads to everyone gradually grieving the losses and changes that have been caused by the mental illness.
Feelings and fears are vented but there is also a new sense of recognition that there can be hope as well. The need for self-care of the patient and family becomes more prominent and networking and skills training improve everyone’s ability to cope with the new circumstances while understanding that the past should be let go of.
C. Moving into Advocacy
In the final stage of emotional response to a mental illness of a partner, or close relative or friend, a deeper understanding of his or her condition and how to best cope with it, emerges. Understanding enables acceptance of the new circumstances and the need for change. Now, you, as a partner, relative, or friend, are ready to take action and actively assist the patient and yourself to implement steps necessary to encourage, initiate, and maintain positive change.
Next, we emphacize how important it is to learn to help yourself before helping your partner.