It can be devastating to families and friends when someone is diagnosed with a major disorder, such as ADD, anxiety or depression. The number one priority is, of course, the person who is suffering. However, the people who love the patient also are suffering, and their needs are often overlooked.
Loved ones of disorder patients might not suffer from disorder symptoms. But they face many challenges as they support the person they love. As a disorder patient goes through diagnosis and treatment, loved ones will experience strong feelings, challenges and victories right along with the patient. In fact, supporting a person with a serious disorder can be as challenging as having the disorder itself.
When things get better, the patient often feels a sense of relief. Their loved ones don’t feel the same relief. But they do feel their own kind of relief.
To help loved ones of disorder patients, remember these important things:
1. The disorder disrupts the lives of family and friends, too.
Certainly, the primary focus should be on the patient. However, it’s not easy to incorporate doctors’ appointments, worry, routine changes and other challenges of dealing with a disorder in the family.
As arrangements are made for treatment and routines change at home, be sensitive to everyone’s needs. Even the patient will feel better knowing the people he or she loves are being taken care of.
2. Friends and family of disorder patients experience strong feelings.
We tend to want to look to caregivers and loved ones for strength when someone has been diagnosed with a major disorder. It’s often the strength of a loved one that helps the patient cope.
However, because families and friends love the patient, they also will be dealing with many challenging feelings: fear, anger, worry, frustration. Counseling can help. At a minimum, be aware and be gentle.
3. Guilt is often the secret challenge of those who love disorder patients.
Even if it doesn’t make sense, friends and family of disorder patients often harbor a secret feeling they have either caused the disorder or have made it worse. They might also feel guilty that they can’t do more to help the person they love.
Help them by persuading them to see their innocence in the situation and see that there are many things they CAN do.
4. Loved ones of disorder patients don’t have all the answers.
This is important for both loved ones themselves and patients to remember. Dealing with a major disorder is challenging, and even medical professionals struggle to understand and successfully treat those who suffer.
A patient doesn’t always know how to explain what’s wrong. Friends and family sometimes don’t have the strength to take control of the situation. To solve this problem, work together and be patient.
5. Loved ones of disorder patients experience grief.
Just as a patient can go through all the stages of grief in dealing with a disorder, so do family and friends go through similar stages. They may think, “Why me?” Although this sounds selfish, it is realistic and normal.
Depending on the state of the patient, some discussion of this may help bring things out into the open and actually improve the patient’s outlook. In other cases, loved ones should look elsewhere for support in resolving their grief, so they don’t add to the stress of the patient. Consult with medical professionals to determine what’s best.
6. Caregivers of disorder patients often need treatment too.
The stress of helping a friend or family member face a major health disorder can cause health problems on its own. Be sure loved ones of disorder patients are consulting with physicians and counselors to relieve the stress and learn techniques specifically designed for families and caregivers.
Temporary medication and regular counseling sessions might be in order. In the end, helping the caregiver stay healthy and strong could directly influence positive progress of the patient.
7. Loved ones of disorder patients don’t always want to talk about the disorder.
There is more to life than the disorder. It might sound harsh, but even the patient feels this! If too much time is spent thinking about the disorder and working on helping the patient feel better, it adds to stress.
Spending too much time on the disorder also can cause confusion and make it difficult to see things clearly, just as when you get too close to anything. Take time to address the disorder, but also take time to do normal things in life.
8. Disorder patients and those who love them need to have fun.
There is a time to be serious and a time to let loose and have fun. Laughter and joy can be very healing, not only for disorder patients, but for those who love for them and care for them.
If someone you know is struggling in their care of a loved one with a disorder, you can help by taking them out of the house, finding something enjoyable to do, giving them someone to talk to, and helping them enjoy life, if even just for a few hours.
9. Loved ones of disorder patients sometimes have their own disorders.
It’s not uncommon for members of the same family, or people who experienced the same triggering event (such as a death) to be dealing with the same disorder symptoms or others. In this case, the caregiver is also a patient who has unique symptoms and issues of his or her own.
Everyone involved must recognize the challenges each person faces and do their best to help within the situation. Professional consultation is often necessary to help a family or group of friends sort out the complexities of multiple disorders within the same group of people.
Support those who support the disorder patient
Friends and family of disorder patients, in a way, share the disorder with the patient, because it affects their lives too. They also share in the joy and sense of accomplishment when the patient gets better.
The key to sustaining the health and well-being of both a disorder patient and the people who love him or her is to be thoughtful, gentle, and aware of the challenges everyone is facing. Make allowances for mistakes and frustrations. Seek professional help when needed.
The primary focus always should be on getting the patient better, but supporting those who support the patient is often overlooked. Care for the caregiver is a vital element of any patient’s well-being and progress.
Featured photo credit: I’m Light Painting Again/Rob Boudon via farm2.staticflickr.com