Among the most consistently overlooked issues in the mental health space are the needs of families who have long served as caretakers for loved ones with serious psychiatric and/or addiction issues. These men and women have faced daunting situations in their efforts to house, protect and advocate for often adolescent or adult children suffering from such symptoms as psychosis, paranoia, mania, depression, anxiety and withdrawal. It is not unusual to hear stories of those who have come to feel like prisoners in their own homes, frequently scared for themselves, their loved ones in crisis and other family members under the same roof. That fear, the guilt that comes with it, the anxiety associated with not doing the ‘right’ thing, and the effort of navigating the labyrinth of clinical and legal issues associated with mental health and addiction all carry a considerable, lasting emotional toll – the result of a situation that has often become unlivable or even toxic.
This pain and distress not only warrants recognition, but often a separate, parallel track of attention and intervention. If undertaken by the right mental health professional who understands the issues and appropriately empathizes, this work can be extremely beneficial for family members’ own healing processes and their overall wellbeing.
Separate input can also help spur what is often a crucial step for family members: recognition that they cannot always and forever serve as caretakers for their loved ones in crisis. The effort overtakes every aspect of one’s life. It can simply be too much, leaving even the most capable, resourceful and loving individuals utterly exhausted and overwhelmed – a state in which it’s difficult to provide unconditional love and care. What’s more, it becomes less and less feasible as people grow older.
Such families often derive tremendous benefit from seeking an independent court-appointed legal guardian to manage their loved one’s housing, care and finances. While this transition can be extremely difficult on an emotional level, a trusted, caring and sympathetic guardian who is expert in mental health issues often provides the crucial respite families need. Further, their involvement frequently yields improvements for loved ones in crisis. This can be partly attributed to the ability of a guardian to utilize professional expertise without the hindrance of emotional baggage. It can also stem from having family members finally step back and return to the roles of just Mom, Dad, spouse, sister, brother or friend – a much healthier dynamic.
The issues associated with serious mental illness and/or substance abuse are daunting, overwhelming and relentless. When these afflict someone you love, they cause exponentially more distress, making families feel exhausted, lost, hopeless and powerless. There’s no shame in recognizing this reality and finding professional, caring resources to step in and assist.