Mental Illness

I’m caring for someone with a mental illness

Mental illnesses are medical conditions caused by changes in brain chemistry or function that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood and behaviour. Conditions and severity of symptoms include:

  • Schizophrenia or other psychosis– delusions, paranoia, hearing voices, and disordered thinking and speech
  • Social withdrawal or social anxiety
  • Anxiety and panic attacks – sudden episodes of intense fear or discomfort
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Extreme mood swings – from feeling really high to feeling really low, which  in some cases may be diagnosed as bipolar disorder
  • Psychosis – delusions, paranoia, hearing voices, and disordered thinking and speech
  • Suicidal thoughts – if you or someone you care about is in crisis and needs immediate assistance, call 911 

Here are some ways to help you cope and also provide support for your family member.

  • Managing emotions

    Caring for someone with a mental illness can be an emotional roller coaster. At times you may feel angry, sad or overwhelmed. If you are struggling with these or other emotions, here are some things you can do.

    • Take a time out – even 30 minutes away from people and stresses, can help you rebalance
    • Give yourself a break – instead of thinking things like, “I should be doing more”, give yourself credit for everything you are doing. Try to think of one or two things each day that you accomplished or that made you feel good
    • If the person lashes out at you – remember it’s the illness talking
    • Be patient – know that their symptoms may vary and some days will be better than others
    • Be accepting – you may have to adjust your expectations of your family member
    • Know it’s not your fault – nobody causes mental illness in another person

    Talk about it

    • Talk to a trusted friend or family member – try to be as straightforward and truthful as possible. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Talking about mental illness will help break the stigma attached to it
    • Talk to a counsellor, mental health professional or school counsellor about how you’re feeling
    • Get information – mental health counsellors can answer any questions you may have and may also be able to provide support for you along the way
  • Tips for coping with specific behaviours

    Symptoms and behaviours vary widely depending on a person’s illness. A mental health counsellor can provide you with information that is specific to your family member.

    Here are a few tips for dealing with delusions or disordered thinking:

    • Help your loved one tell the difference between reality and fantasy – say when you think something is not real, while acknowledging that it may seem real to them
    • Let them know it’s their brain chemistry that makes them think they’re seeing something
    • Try to distract them – involve them in a conversation or activity

    Here are a few tips for helping to manage aggressive behaviour:

    • Give a firm, but calm, command such as “Please stop”
    • Give the person some space; if possible, remove yourself from the situation
    • Discuss aggressive behaviour or threats openly with your family and with a counsellor
    • Try to determine what triggers certain behaviours and reactions
  • Get help:


    Not sure where to start? Call our 24/7 helpline or talk to us in our live chat to find resources in your community.