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  • Writer's pictureBy April Sage

From Chaos to Clarity: Tips for Managing Mental Health Challenges in Loved Ones

green ribbon symbolizing mental health awareness month

When I think of Mental Health Month, I reflect on the variations of what mental health means to me. It signifies the ability to handle my daily challenges and confront them with resilience. Although some days require more time and effort, I can process things and move forward. Each problem-solving endeavor varies, and some hurdles may feel almost unbearable, triggering moments of uncertainty about how we will move forward.

I’ve witnessed abrupt upheaval caused by undiagnosed mental illnesses, swiftly altering behaviors and disrupting lives seemingly out of nowhere. Whether accompanied by a diagnosis or not, this disruption can induce chaos, demanding all of someone’s available resources and plunging loved ones into a whirlwind of uncertainty.

Often, an occurrence follows with weeks, if not months, of navigating the system and scheduling appointments, which only adds an extra layer of long-term chaos, requiring juggling personal and caregiving responsibilities simultaneously.

For those of us who have experienced this scenario, it means shouldering our day-to-day tasks and the additional daily needs of our loved ones who, at the moment, cannot manage on their own. At times, it can be unbearable for one household to support the needs of many, especially if support is scarce. Societal stigmas compound the challenges of medication management and safety precautions, and secrecy further complicates finding solutions and asking for help.

I’ve witnessed the havoc and chaos undiagnosed mental illness has on family members, sparking conflicts over differing approaches to care and planning for the future. In Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, there is approximately a 30 percent chance of behavioral challenges that need intervention along the mental health journey. Each case is unique. In some instances, a typically sweet person can become angry and mean, or vice versa. Similarly, in schizophrenia, the onset of symptoms varies widely. However, the average age of onset for males is between 25 and 27 and in their 30’s for females.

When confronting these emotionally charged situations, it’s crucial to approach them with sensitivity and a clear strategy. Here are a few tips:

  1. Divide and Conquer: Leverage the strengths of your support network and openly discuss availability, accessibility, and levels of responsibility, and communication methods. Share a calendar and consider groups chats and weekly zoom sessions to keep everyone apprised. Consider seeking assistance from impartial individuals, such as care managers and myself, who can offer objective insights and aid in decision-making without adding an emotional connection to this challenge.

  2. Prepare for the Long Haul: Take inventory of necessities for at least the next 60 days if not longer. Whether they return home or reside in a supportive communal environment, assign tasks and responsibilities such as regular check-ins to ensure continuity of care for the long term, such as medication management, pets, mail, and disposing of garbage or other perishable items.

  3. Financial Planning: Budget will be a major focus no matter the situation. There could be a diagnosis, such as Alzheimer’s, that will continue to affect the mental health of your loved one that could require ongoing caregiving or oversight. Developing a comprehensive budget and contingency plan can provide peace of mind and ensure continuity of care should an unexpected change occur.

Life’s journey isn’t easy, but by leaning on one another and seeking guidance from experts, we can navigate the twists and turns with greater ease to determine the next steps to make our lives easier.

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