How to Help Someone with a Mental Illness

March 28, 2011 Natasha Tracy

Loving and supporting someone with a mental illness is hard. Here are some ways to help a love one with a mental illness. Breaking Bipolar blog.

I talk to many people who want to help a person with a mental illness. Often the people they want to help are loved ones who have just been diagnosed with a mental illness and those who want to help feel powerless.

The “helpers” have a hard job, but let me just say, we love you for it.

Be a Powerhouse of Support for Someone With Mental Illness

Let’s just start by recognizing that mental illness is a real illness and you can’t fix it any more than you can fix cancer. I appreciate that you want to take the pain away, but please understand, you can’t. You need to accept that.

That being said, you can have an extremely important role in helping us get better. Support and love are the best things in the world.

When someone is diagnosed they may feel defective, unlovable and like they will be abandoned. If you can stand by the person with love and support and with a reminder that you’re not going anywhere, that is a magnificent gift.

Supporting a Sick Person is Hard

It’s really tough to weather the storms of a mental illness. It’s tough for the person with the illness and it’s tough for those around them. We know it’s hard. That’s why it’s such an amazing gift to try to help.

What You Can Do to Support Someone with a Mental Illness

  1. Tell them you love them, support them and won’t leave them.
  2. Tell them that they are not broken and they are the person they have always been, but they just have an illness
  3. Learn about their illness. The amount of information available out there on any illness is daunting. If you can fill in some of the blanks and do some of the work, particularly in the beginning, that’s a great help. Plus it will give you insight into what they’re going through.
  4. Help them get treatment. Drive them to appointments. Make sure they have their medications. Make sure they are talking to their doctor or therapist.
  5. Check in. Make sure they are doing OK. Make sure they are following the treatment plan.
  6. Offer to take care of a chore. Offer to make dinner. Offer to vacuum. The smallest thing is wonderful.
  7. Ask the person what they need. We’re all different and what works for us is different so the person with a mental illness can tell you best what they need.

What You Need to Do for You

Remember, get help for yourself. It’s hard to be there for a sick person. It can be really hard on you. Get your own support. It’s OK to say you need help too.

Make sure you create some boundaries. If you do everything on the list you will fall over of exhaustion. Pick reasonable things you can do. No one can do it all.

Your Support is a Gift

Whatever you do, know that your support is a gift. We might not be able to tell you at this moment. We might be too wrapped up in our illness to tell you how wonderful you are. Other people would run, but you didn’t. Your support doesn’t have to be perfect to be amazing.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, March 28). How to Help Someone with a Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

April, 11 2013 at 2:00 pm

Hi, I'm not sure if this post is too old to comment on, but as I am new in the world of dealing with a loved one with bipolar disorder, I wanted to write to you. Natasha, from all the forums and blogs and books and support groups I've attended, your insight and advice is some of the best. So thank you! My situation is that my boyfriend took off suddenly, after I asked him if he was going to get help for his "depression", to which he responded "we're not talking about this" and I thought (stupidly) that by pointing out that it was affecting me too, he would want to think about it, because I know he really cared for me. We were making plans for the rest of our lives, and all that fairy tale stuff. I just wanted him to get better, and I didn't yet know it was bipolar disorder. So, he left, saying, it's okay, you'll be over me in a few days, and this is for the best, and this just isn't right... it's now been about 2 months, and he's not talking to his Mom, except for when he has to be in her presence, and blows up at her, hasn't told the parents that we aren't together, and won't respond to any attempt I make at contact. So, I think I understand his pattern, and hopefully if I'm right, he'll come back to me, but at that time, how do you go about trying to get someone help that is in denial? I loved your post about the best things to say to someone with mental illness, and was thrilled to find that I've done most of the things on the list, but right now he thinks I'm the devil (for telling his best friends to watch out for him because he won't let me, which means that now his friends are all "laughing at him") and he says he wants me to stop contacting him and move on... enough of the information I've gotten says that this is fairly common and he might not mean it when he comes out of episode, but in the meantime, is there anything I CAN do to try to help him? Or is sending a text every once in a while saying "I'm still here for you" or something, going to further spin him out? I know he's hurting so much, and I think he's had a lot of pain from people either ignoring his problems (he's sort of obsessed about the concept of "enabling people") or "slipping away", so my gut says he just wants someone to do the things you suggest, which is what I want to do. But I don't want to do it in the wrong order or wrong timing and turn him off to me further, because I know I can be a valuable asset in the future, if he chooses to pursue treatment. Thanks again for your awesome input and this fabulous information and blogs!

March, 27 2013 at 4:11 am

I hope someone may be able to give me some advice on my sister-in-law, I am getting quite desperate for some help.
For the last year or so, she has been steadily deteriorating - telling us to withdraw our money from the banks and stock gold bullions under the bed because society's financial system is on the brink of collapse, telling us only to eat food from certain "approved" lists online because other food is full of poison which will give us cancer, making stockpiles of food in her basement, ringing us in a panic in the middle of the night because of a government conspiracy etc.
During the Christmas holidays of 2012, she complained of stomach pain, "burning inside", back pain, pins and needles and various other physical issues - however after months of tests and hospital visits, the doctors have found nothing in terms of a physical issue and have told her there is nothing more they can do and that she needs to return to work.
She has been off work on medical leave for over 3 months now, and refuses to return. She has moved back in with my parents-in-law, and my retired mother-in-law has become her full time carer - preparing all her meals, taking her to every medical practitioner possible, dressing her etc.
Based on previous history, the rest of the family can see that she doesn't want to go back to work and is trying to find a medical reason which will let her stay in bed all day.
She doesn't care about anything (she has left her dog in her apartment and it's up to my mother in law to feed it, my sister in law said she wishes the dog would die because it annoys her!), and seems to have totally given up.
She is negative about everything, to the point where we are berated for eating or drinking various items in her presence because in her mind they are full of toxins and we are stupid for consuming them. She is paranoid about wi-fi and radio waves, and is certain that her problems come from the fact that the waves are "heating up her insides".
All things combined, we think that she has some form of mental illness or depression, but she refuses completely to go and see a counsellor or psychologist. She will not even consider the fact that her problems could stem from a mental illness and not a physical disease, and becomes abusive and threatens suicide if we try to discuss this topic with her.
It is becoming extremely heavy for the whole family and we all want to help, but we don't know what to do anymore. It is getting to the point where I don't want to visit the family anymore because she is impossible to be around, but I don't want to hurt my parents-in-law or my husband by refusing to go there.
Has anyone been in a similar situation?
Do you have some advice for what I can do to help her?
Do you have some ideas about what could be affecting her so I could perhaps read some journals or articles about this issue?
Many thanks in advance and my apologies for the length of this comment!

February, 26 2013 at 11:08 pm

My sister is bipolar and she is not willing to take any help. She even terrorizes her doctor. Life with her is hell because she very very aggressive and violent. Her situation is getting worst and worst and before some days I had my first severe panic attacks because of the unbearable stress of not knowing what will happen next minute. My parents are suffering as well and I think they won't be able to hold for too long. I'm tired...

January, 7 2013 at 10:39 am

And what do you do when they won't get treatment , have stopped treatment? Ivevtaken to tough love now. I will not take his phone calls unless he gets back in a program. I don't have the strength anymore to be abused by my child. His brother is scared to death of him. I want to shake the selfishness out of him. I'm so tired

January, 4 2013 at 3:58 pm

Every parent has trouble letting go when their children grow up and get married, particularly mothers and sons, because some sons need a big push out the door. In the case where the son has a disability as big as schizophrenia, the relationship is very tight and difficult to pass on to one less experienced, such as his wife.
My husband has a physical illness and I have bipolar disorder. He is very close to his mother, but it doesn't affect his relationship with me. When the time came for him to leave his home country again and back to my country, it was hard for them both to separate and for him to come back in my care. She was very worried. What she did was to teach me everything she knew about looking after her son, including cooking. But the thing that really helped was that she was show off to him what she had taught me, so that he also had confidence that she had confidence in me. So for example, she asked me to help her clean the kitchen, and then called her son in to show him what a good job I had done.
We are here together in my country and call her regularly to chat but he doesn't have to call her for everything all the time. (We share the domestic work, by the way). I can bet she is still out of her mind with worry but at least we are managing fine on our own.
I have once been through the kind of thing your son experiences weekly. I can tell you that it is terrifying, absolutely terrifying. I think the most independent of young men, in the most solid of relationships would still want to call their mother in such circumstances. He may actually have no memory of the event or reduced memory and I can understand him not wanting to talk about it. I had great difficulty in saying anything about this experience for the longest time.
He needs reassurance about who he is as a person, and that he is still loved, that he is okay. He will need his entire support network on his side.
I myself would say to your daughter in law simply to be there. She cannot really stop it, she cannot intervene directly in these moments. It is traumatising to watch a loved one go through this kind of thing. I bet you worry for your daughter in law because you know what you have been through with it and you don't want her to suffer the same way.
Depending on the kind of relationship you have with your daughter in law, you could share coping skills and learn new coping skills together, perhaps starting with what Natasha has posted here.
Wishing you the best - you sound like a lovely family so hope things will work out for you all.

Natasha Tracy
January, 4 2013 at 2:24 pm

Hi Carol,
I can fully appreciate that your daughter-in-law is not a professional, but when you love (not to mention live with) a person with a mental illness, you really need to become an expert.
I recommend she read everything she can get her hands on about the illness. There are many articles here, at HealthyPlace and for more specialized advice on handling schizophrenia, Please see this wonderful group:
And I recommend she find a support group for her and her husband. Issues are going to come up that she's not going to know how to handle, and that's OK, that's why support people, and professionals, are there.
- Natasha Tracy

Carol Miller
January, 4 2013 at 12:42 pm

My son was diagnosed with schizaphenia when he was in his teens. We have gone though hell together.I have supported him in everything even to getting his licence and a little car, which was so beneficial for his self esteem. Trialing lots of medication he responded to Clozapine. He since met a lovely girl. They are now married and have a beautiful little boy. However even though my daughter in law knew about his illness she wasn't prepared for his outbursts brought on by fear from his destuctive sexual thoughts. It kills him and he shouts and screams trying to get away from it.It happens about once a week she tells me. He rings me and tells me he can't fight it anymore and is not a fit father for his son, which is not true. He is a fantastic husband and father. When he is not tortured by his thoughts you would not think there was anything wrong with himl But when he is well he won't talk about it for me to suggest boundaries. He doesn't smoke or drink and goes to church regularly with his wife.
But I'm worried as to how long will she be able to put up with the weekly shouting. I know if there was a prefesional person there when he is having these awful damaging thoughts they could know how to handle it, but when he has them of course there is no one around except his wife or he rings me, which of course I don't mind, to get the pressure off her, but what is going to happen in the future when I am no longer around? If he loses his son and wife then you may as well say goodbye to him. Do you have any suggestions in your wisdom for me to pass on to his wife.
Thank you

Natasha Tracy
November, 19 2012 at 7:28 am

Hi Sally,
It's really tough to suggest anything without specifics, but the only thing you can really do from afar is try to convince your brother to get help. If you feel he has a mental illness, you may want to lay out for your brother why you think this. Or perhaps, you can just say that you are concerned and not suggest an illness and just encourage him to get help like therapy where he can work out whatever may be happening.
You can also try to explain all of this to your family and try to get them to be more supportive of your brother.
In short though, you can't get your brother into care without his consent unless he is a danger to himself or others, and if he is, then you should call the local authorities.
- Natasha

November, 18 2012 at 6:52 pm

I really need help don't know what to do anymore.
I have my little brother who is suffering for I really don't what to say maybe from mental illness because he was born a normal and wonderful kid, and one of this day a call far home where i can believe what the was telling me that my brother is trowing anytime to who he saw and hurting people by chasing them or scream of them ,so the family don't have choice then take him and lock him until he calm down and do the same all the time the see him behave bad , I don't know what going on and im the only one who supporting my family when im here nobody help me I'm really worry about my brother i love him so much and fell like he need me to be there to help him I work with people with mental echoes and I undestant how much he suffering I fell the rest of the family don't get it how to help him and be supportive,please help me i live so far from my family and i have a daughter my own to raise please tell me what to do I'm worry about my little brother and always doing my best to send money to take care of is health but I worry so much and afraid to lose him please give me some advise please please

November, 11 2012 at 6:34 am

This is a fantastic site with unbelievably helpful advice. All I can say is thank you for taking the time to do this.
I deal with these issues with someone I love. The trust and fear issues with her are so intense that it's always a dance of getting close and being pushed away...sometimes feels like 1 step forward and 2 steps back.
She doesn't have the money, willpower, or means to get consistent medication or physician/therapist treatment. I've offered to do everything, but she doesn't want to become too dependant on anyone.
Not sure if there is anything else I can do, but it consumes me to be so inefficient in helping her. I would do or give anything to get her better and I love her with or without this illness. I tell her how much I love and support her daily, but the trust for her is so so hard.
Thanks again for this site. It is extremely cathartic for me.

September, 19 2012 at 4:35 pm

Hi Kristine,
Good on you for trying to help your family member and for reaching out. I am a person with bipolar.
If there was an easy answer I suppose you would have found it by now.
In order to forge a relationship with your sick family member, I recommend you keep going the way you are with reading these kinds of blogs. They can give you an insight into what HE is going through, as well as helping you understand that others are going through the same thing as you.
I think Natasha wrote a blog about this - can people without mental illness understand people with a mental illness? Or something along those lines. I believe they can develop an understanding, theoretically at least.
It's important for you to feel safe, set your boundaries, - but don't give up! People have come through worse situations.

September, 19 2012 at 5:34 am

I have a family member whos life basically went down hill. I am not sure where it stems from. At times, he was okay, then out of no where, it would go down hill. He would stop drinking and then would drink again and this is what seems to trigger his bipolar/maniac episodes. We have tried everything and he will not accept help at all. He at one point wanted to move in with our family again, but we felt unsafe for him to be around the baby and my disabled brother. Due to that, he has chosen to live on the streets. We have told him numerous times that he needs help and needs to be on medication on order for us to help him and he refused still. We are helpless at this point and do not know what else to do. How can you watch a loved one live like this? We want to take him in but are scared of the consequences that might occur again. We want him to get better.

August, 13 2012 at 2:58 pm

My who is a clinical social worker real tried to help me. She served divorce papers on me while I under suicide watch in a behavioral health unit. Whein I got home she had left me and took all the meaningful furniture. After filing for divorce, she then filed papers to have committed to a mental asylum.
I now hate social workers and the court system.

June, 21 2012 at 3:44 pm

Has anyone heard many success stories for people engaging in dialectical behaviour therapy?

June, 21 2012 at 3:16 pm

Hi Natasha,
I agree with what you have said. Sometimes it takes a bit of time for your heart to catch up with what your head already knows, and it does help to be reassured that I'm only human and can only do so much.
I think couples therapy will help, and im willing to engage it, i think its more important to have his moods and emotions stabilised first because his perceptions are so different when he is not taking his medication or seeing his drs. I think i will research someone that can help us and keep the referral handy for when he is ready.
Thank you so much for hearing me :)

Natasha Tracy
June, 21 2012 at 9:07 am

Hi Jess,
You're in a really tough spot, no doubt, but I might reminds you that no one can find themselves but themselves. You can't find him - only he can. He needs to be looking and he needs to be doing the work.
And needless to say, him not taking his medication as prescribed isn't helping things. But again, only he can fix that, not you.
It sounds to me like he needs to have some serious therapy. You are doing what you can - which is to be there for him and tell him that you'll love him no matter what - but this can't sink in until he's ready to hear it. You're doing your job but he has to do his.
I can understand how desperate you might be to fix things, but it sounds like only he has the power to do that. You might also want to consider couple's counselling so that you can work through the issues the two of you share.
I'm sorry. I sure you wish you could help more, but sometimes people need to work on themselves and there's nothing a partner can do but be there with love and support.
- Natasha Tracy

June, 21 2012 at 1:03 am

The love of my life has a personality disorder and a mood disorder, he doesnt always take his medication properly, and even when he does he hurts. His self hatred makes me sad, and somedays when days are hard for him, they are hard for me and he feels like hes let me down by having a MH illness. He sabotages our relationship, and finds ways of pulling apart the life we've made. Its not easy living with him, but it would be harder being without him. For me, the hardest part is knowing he has to do the work and waiting for him to be ready. Feeling helpless brings out the worst in both him and I. He doesnt feel worthy of my love and support, and doesnt feel deserving of good things in life.
I have support for myself, and enjoy a wonderful group of friends and family. I find that i feel more balanced within myself with support, however this leaves him feeling insecure and resentful of my close friends, i think he feels insignificant, it doesnt seem to matter how much i try and reassure him that hes the center of my universe he cant see it for himself.
I dont know how to help him find himself...

June, 3 2012 at 4:30 pm

Sometimes you have to accept, that not everyone can, or will be saved. The drowning person, that won't accept help is going to drown. You must decide if you let them drown alone, or let them pull you under with them. Life is not fair, and not every story has a happy ending.

May, 3 2012 at 7:23 pm

Spot on overall. I would add that people who pay lip-service to helping a person with mental illness without any intention of providing it are asinine and ignorant. I completely understand your perspective of being at war with people without mental illness. A little harsh, but unfortunately it's accurate.

Natasha Tracy
March, 5 2012 at 8:53 am

Hi Sadie,
I'm sorry you know someone in that situation. It's a very tough call.
When it comes down to it, you can't help someone that doesn't want to be helped, so if the person doesn't feel there is a problem, and doesn't feel they need help, then there is nothing you can do for them. You may see clearly what you think they need, but until they agree to help, there is nothing that can be done.
All you can do is express your feelings and concerns about the situation and try to be supportive in whatever way does work for the person.
- Natasha

March, 4 2012 at 12:40 pm

How do you help someone who hasn't been diagnosed and is refusing to take medicine?

February, 16 2012 at 3:19 pm

Want to can u put into a few lines everything you have been through and are feeling? suffice to say its a lonely road as a caretaker/giver/supporter/ full of self doubt self abuse and fear!! bloody hell and we say thata person with bipolar know what I think i d trade..(well with my partner) as he is up beat, everyones friend loved by all charming intelligent charismatic to mention a few..So why????why not!!! Peace jane

February, 16 2012 at 2:57 pm

John........You are not alone my eyes are filled to the brim as I write this and my heart a million pieces!!! Pain that is HUUUGE!!! to say the broken defeated all that ..sooo helpless..I sooo feel for you

January, 11 2012 at 4:02 pm

Thank you for trying to help me....this has been so heartbreaking. I still cry.
God Bless You!

Natasha Tracy
November, 30 2011 at 3:44 pm

Hi John,
I'm truly sorry for the situation you're in and what you've gone through. It sounds like you've done everything you can do to help and be there for her but it hasn't improved the situation.
I'm sorry, but sometimes you have to walk away. I can't say whether this is the right option for you but I can say that after you've done all you reasonably can, if the other person won't work with you for something better, then it's time to do the right thing for you.
We all have limits. And limits are OK. Limits are healthy. And it sounds like you've reached yours. And that's OK.
You have to understand that you have lived through one terrible situation but not all situations are like this and not all situations are the same. You need to give yourself a chance to heal from what has happened so you can move forward. It might be time to get some help for yourself so you can move on. Sometimes we need a bit of extra help after going through something very difficult.
I'm sorry, but I don't have any magical solutions for you. All I can say is take care of yourself and respect yourself. You might love her but that doesn't mean that your relationship is, or can ever be, healthy.
Take care,
(I've written this on when to say goodbye to a person with a mental illness for my site, not related to HealthyPlace, if you want to take a look: )

November, 30 2011 at 3:31 pm

Thank you Natasha. I had been checking the site for almost a month and am so glad to hear from you. What's your opinion of my situation.
Thanks again,

Natasha Tracy
November, 30 2011 at 6:39 am

Hi John,
Yes, people read this. I review the vast majority of comments and other readers do read them as well.
- Natasha

November, 29 2011 at 4:46 pm

Does anyone read this??

November, 7 2011 at 6:46 pm

I have more to say.....This episode has hurt my soul to the core. I've fallen into the deepest depression I've ever known. My heart is broken and I don't think I can trust again. I need advice and prayer.
I thought I could just move on but the pain from this relationship has me stuck and so very sad. God please help me.......she shows no remorse on ly blame. I suppose it's how she can live with herself. This truly is a fatal disease.
I did my best but I'm defeated/

November, 4 2011 at 10:18 am

I had been the caregiver for my girlfriend....I did EVERYTHING on your almost killed me. Rides to doctor, hospitals, surgery, all day to day things done by me, 911 calls and on and on and on.
Then I got hurt and needed a ride to the hospital....ONCE...verses 50-60 incidents in 3+yrs. I had to call a friend for a ride who was an hour away.
She was, as usual worried only about herself.
I was in the hospital 2 days and never heard from her.....she was out on a "date" with an "old" friend she found on the internet!
We ende up back big mistake until she went crazy again saying everyone was stealing things from her. I still love her but I can't handle anymore of this bipolar insanity. She's been treated for it for 15+ years. Help

Parwathy Narayan
September, 22 2011 at 5:15 am

I really felt "broken" and damaged when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I started pushing people away before they could push me away 'cause I felt I was unlovable. I had so much shame as a result of this which is what I am currently working on in therapy. One thing that has helped me so much is that my best friend has stuck by me through the whole thing. She says that I am the same person, just with an illness that is treatable, and she loves and accepts me the same. I love your article and the importance of being supportive. That's exactly what I needed. Thank you.

August, 8 2011 at 11:03 am

I wish I didn't have the loved ones that ran, but they did. If someone you love is there for you in any way, make sure you cherish them. Not everyone stays.

Natasha Tracy
June, 28 2011 at 7:51 am

Hi Ann,
Well thank-you.
I prize caregivers and like to remind them, and others, that they are superheroes. And yes, they need support too. Dealing with a mental illness is challenging for everyone.
I'm pretty invested, yes. Thanks for the comment.
- Natasha

Ann Becker-Schutte
June, 27 2011 at 10:32 am

What a lovely article! I was so glad to see the reminder to that caregivers also need care and support. Thanks for summarizing this so well. It's clear you are invested in your community!

May, 15 2011 at 7:13 pm

I can relate to several people in this blog. My husband is Bi-Polar and has possibly other mental disorders. he was going to a counselor but after 2 visits he quit and when I mentioned it to him he told me I was pushing him. I am on the verge of leaving him (not really, just feel like it for my own sanity). He also has emphysema and has oxygen to use as needed. For the past 2 years he has remained in bed using his O2. He finally slipped up and admitted he did not need it, it just made a good reason for him to stay in bed. He feels that since he supplys the money this should give him the right for us to wait on him. Right now I am just so frustrated. He refuses to listen to anything. Our youngest son will be leaving for college and he gives me a break sometimes, but when he moves out then I will be all alone. Anyhow it feels good to write this down.

April, 14 2011 at 5:45 am

Oh my, thank you Natasha Tracy and Zoe so much for the advice and comments. It means so much to know we are not alone. My daughter is trying to get on a dshs program called Disability Lifeline. This will enable her to get medical and some type of mental health treatment, at least for a few months. She seems to think that if her husband gets a job right now that she would not be eligible for this. I'm not sure about that.
In the meantime I am getting ready today to take the car I got a loan for her to drive and try selling it back to the dealer. She has not made a payment in 6 months and I can no longer afford to make the payments. This will leave her with exactly nothing in her life. I am going to make a point of getting them to contribute something, anything to the household, though and I will start calling the numbers from the link you so kindly provided, Natasha. And I will need to see progress, for sure. And Zoe, I know that was terribly hard for you guys to provide hospice care to your mother in law. It's so hard to see an older person go through this. Wow, life does get difficult. I also will keep a lookout for any drug related activity.
Again, thank you so so much for your help.

April, 11 2011 at 12:20 am

Hi Carolyn,
You're in some very difficult spots. That's so hard. I can commiserate because a few years ago we were doing hospice for my mother in law. Something you wrote really stands out - she's been lying and stealing. While I don't know, these are two signs that drug use is involved. That may not be the case but it's something to consider. While it's important to continue to talk things through, it's ok to set limits about what you're willing to have in your house. Do something nice for yourself this week. Zoe

Natasha Tracy
April, 9 2011 at 2:01 pm

Hi Carolyn,
I'm sorry you're in this situation. It sounds very difficult.
It sounds like you have identified the problems well. If you're concerned about your 14-year-old then you probably should be.
But your older daughter is an adult. Being an adult comes with responsibilities. It means taking care of your own life. Even when you're sick. And you haven't mentioned her husband, but it seems like there's no excuse for him not to have a job either.
You're trying to do something extremely difficult - you're raising a 14-year-old. And you're trying to take care of your father. And you're trying to help your daughter. You can't do everything.
In my opinion, it's reasonable to say to your daughter and her husband that they have to be making progress and contributing to the household to like there. You need to decide what "progress and contribution" look like. Progress might be your daughter getting treatment. It might be her husband getting a low-paying job until he can find something better. Contribution might mean money. Or it might mean doing work around the house. Those are your decisions. But these are reasonable things to ask of people.
Please see this page:…
For many, many health resources. Use the numbers - any of them, and they can direct you to someone who can help. I know you're trying to work with the system, but there are other resources for you and your daughter too.
And if you can, get help for you and your younger daughter. See if there's an agency with a sliding scale or no-pay option and find a therapist to talk to. You don't have to be all alone in this. There are people who are there to help.
Good luck.
- Natasha

April, 9 2011 at 12:01 pm

My daughter is 23 and lives in our house with her 21 year old husband. Neither has a job. She is bi-polar, depression, and terrible anxiety. She has been diagnosed with all, but now has no insurance. I am trying to help her get on the state insurance so she can get treatment.
She is getting increasingly more ill. Her husband seems oblivious and is of no help whatsoever. She has started lying and stealing. I have a 14 year old daughter and an 87 year old father I am trying to take care of. Alone.
These 2 people have nowhere to go, so it seems impossible to throw them out. They both have many debts and legal issues that I am not able to help them with. I have tried helping her for years and with that have put myself (and therefore my 14 year old) in dire straits as far as financial matters. I am about to file for bankruptcy, as I have put many of her medical, dental and debt collector issues on my credit cards.
I feel like I am allowing my young daughter's life to be destroyed. Does anyone have any advice? This also, as the young lady mentioned above, is very toxic to my mental state. I have a real hard time thinking clearly.

April, 6 2011 at 12:22 am

Hi Fran, Yes, my son can be very reclusive too. It's so hard to know your role for a child who is a young adult. If there's any hobby he can get out and do that he enjoys - it's good to try to get some help from a psychiatrist & counselor. W/ my son, we try to build in support and structure but then it's like he's afraid to actually fall into a "normal" life or routine and just leaves. Yes, it'd be good to talk.

April, 3 2011 at 6:39 am

Zoe, I'd love to communicate with you as I have a son, also 24 who had undiagnosed problems but definitely Social Anxiety, Depression and ADHD. We think he may be bipolar as well but he has slipped through the system here and I am just now possibly able to get him back into the system for proper help. Although not violent with us, he definitely has anger issues but the biggest thing is control.. he seems to need to control what we do and how we think and what goes on in the home so it is abusive in a contol kind of way. The big difference is with his anxiety issues. He is becoming a recluse, and is always here so it never stops affecting all of us, the entire family.
I'd like to connect with you if you'd like to talk : )

April, 2 2011 at 8:35 pm

Thank you for your response, Natasha. Boundaries can be so hard to set, especially because it makes you think you're letting go and that's very scary. My son plans to go to West at the end of the month by walking there back-packing through the desert. He’s bought a compass and is reading about traveling through there. Over the past few years, he’s done something similar every 3 to 4 months. Initially, when I didn’t hear from him for some time, I filed missing person’s reports, but when it kept happening & with him being of age – I could no longer do that. He plans on writing about his experiences. I will too just as a strategy to get through it. This is one of our disagreements, but it would appear this is something he’s going to continue to do. It seems to be related to cycling, but he feels it’s different this time because he’s telling me first and researching. He’s 24. What can I do? He said to me, “When are you going to understand I’m just not going to be like everyone else?” Truthfully, I’m really seeing that; I just want him to be safe, and see there can be good in life. What’s a mom to do?
Jillian - it would be great if you could attend a support group. Some of the people there would really understand what you're going through.
Fabian & Maria - I feel for you. That's alot. Like Natasha's note to me, I hope you take care of yourself and take time for you and your wife.
Ron, I understand your comment, but my son was grounded or had some other consequence his entire childhood. I'm sure it was no fun. As a parent, I felt I had to "punish" the bad choices and help him learn what was "right". I'm not saying we shouldn't consequence, but it really didn't help him learn as a young person and made us both miserable. Logically, I can't believe he'd want so many consequences if he could help his own behavior. My son's style of processing, difficulty w/ meds and that traditional school just wasn't working for him all played a role. We went to counseling and read tons of books. Sometimes, a specific answer just isn't there.

April, 2 2011 at 1:40 pm

This was a really helpful post for me, even though it was somewhat hard for me to read. My husband of a year has had Bipolar Mania since he was 16 and ADHD since he was 7 (a difficult combination), and I am his main supporter. I myself have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. We have an 18 month old son and we've already had the genetics talk about all 3 disorders with his doctor... Wow.
But this comment isn't about my son, its about my husband. Let me tell you, its HARD supporting him, and right now I have little support for myself. No one seems to understand him or his mental disorder, and so I am having to carry this load on my own. He has a really hard time with his "down periods" and its a struggle for us to get through them. We are still figuring out his correct medicine doses and working with a therapist who's wonderful with (aka making progress) but every time I go to another person for support when I feel like I most need it, they tell me to just leave him. He has never physically hurt me or my son, but all anyone ever sees him as is abusive. I absolutely hate that Bipolar is associated with abusive. Everyone immeadiately thinks its that when its not. I'm his only supporter and I need support myself. That's all!
His family understands his mental disorder but they always will downplay it. I don't feel like I get any support from them either. I'm just overly exhausted from carrying the load that is his Bipolar all by myself for almost three years now. I'm starting to turn to online support and to NAMI. Any support from people here would also be very helpful. I'm just tired of having to go through this all alone, and with people not understanding. Its very toxic to my own mental state.
Thanks for listening.

Fabian and Maria
April, 2 2011 at 10:23 am

My wife and I are an a very closed position as Zoe, with the exeption that our son doesn't go away, he is on Pritiq (desvenlafasina) and other antidepresant. We notice chages in his behavior; personality, eating disorders. He missed his last apppointment with the psiquiatry, now we have the next appointment on august 2011, I say we; because I myself have to see the same psiquiatry, actually we are a family of five and all need some kind of help.

Natasha Tracy
April, 1 2011 at 4:59 pm

Hi Zoe,
I'm sorry to hear that's happening. It's extremely difficult to be in your position.
I've written elsewhere about knowing when to walk away from someone with a mental illness. Not because you want to or because you don't care but because it's critical that you establish your own boundaries and take care of yourself.
If you insist on clinging to someone to refuses to swim, you both drown.
What I recommend is defining boundaries for yourself. Things you can stick to and live with. Define what you will accept, what you won't, and communicate that with your son. Tell him his actions are hurtful and you won't allow that to continue. Tell him why you want him to get treatment, what damage the illness is doing to his life. In the best of all worlds, this will make him want to recommit to treatment, but that just might not be reasonable.
Some people would call that "tough love" but really it's not. It's just admitting that you are important and need your needs met too. If, at a later date, he is willing to commit to treatment, then you might want to take a more active role. That's your choice.
But like I said, it can't always be all about someone else. You matter too.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
April, 1 2011 at 4:39 pm

Yes, you have control over getting treatment and choosing treatment, but that's not the same thing as having control over an illness. As I said, you don't have control over cancer either.
I'm all for being empowered and fully agree that we all choose to work to make our lives better but thinking you have control over a disease is naive and while you might not have meant it, it also minimizes the experience of all those who have done everything possible to get better but aren't having success.
- Natasha

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 2 2018 at 8:33 pm

Thank you so much for addressing Ron. I was SO crushed by what he said. It made me feel as though I wasn’t doing enough to overcome my BPD and BP2. His comment made me feel so inadequate and put down. So thank you!

April, 1 2011 at 4:30 pm

Ron, just a note! At the age of 16 I had "an episode" my parents sought treatment for me and when I became an adult I continued with the treatment. I did everything asked of me as far as meds, counseling, therapy, inpatient, etc.... When I was 17 I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and GAD. The diagnoses continued and the anti-depressants kept changing. FINALLY at the age of 43, I was correctly diagnosed with BP1, GAD and several others. Even though mental illness runs in my family, the main problem with mine is I am med resistant b/c I had been misdiagnosed for all those years and given anti-depressants that threw me into manic episodes. I did everything that was asked of me and yet it was the "Experts" that did not do their job and I am paying for it now. So, NO, everyone does not always have power over their illness. People may think they do, but they may find out later they were wrong.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 2 2018 at 8:31 pm

Thank you sooooooo much for responding to Ron so I didn’t have to!

April, 1 2011 at 1:47 pm

Hi Natasha,
My son is the person I try to help. I do take him to doctor/counseling appointments, try to check in, send him notes and let him know how much I care, but I'm truly tired of the destructive cycles - the rebuilding after the crashes, the wondering if he's alive when he takes off. I'm always going to care and love him, but he's pulling away from me because he feels I should just let him live his life, even if it involves drug use and taking off at the drop of a hat backpacking across the United States w/ no resources or plan. He's left abruptly 4 other times w/ no word. The first time, I filed a missing persons report. The fourth time, I hadn't heard from him for 3 months but decided I couldn't just keep reporting it when he does this. So, I've backed off. When we discuss hard drugs, I can't just "accept" this as part of his life because it's so destructive and disastrous. My son feels because he's telling me he's leaving this time that it's ok. I understand the choice is his but feel overwhelmed because it's hard to get him to appointments and hard to rebuild when he comes back. I guess I feel like why should I do that if he's going to just throw it away and take off once more. Knowing myself, I'll encourage him to go to appointments and think it through, but I'm really confused about what I'm doing with all of it. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Zoe

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