About half of the people in the greater capital area struggle with mental illness at some point in their life (source). We can estimate that the numbers are similar in other parts of the country. Moreover, numerous people struggle at some point with mental difficulties without them being considered a mental disorder. This means that we will probably all experience having a relative, or someone close to us, struggle with a mental disorder. Watching someone we love go through an illness, whether it is mental or physical, can be a difficult experience. When people struggle with a mental illness, their behaviour, thoughts and feelings can change. Then, problems can arise, e.g. in communication, and it is often difficult to know how to respond to these changes in the individual. It is important to remember that behaviour and distress due to an illness can sometimes affect others without it necessarily being intended.
Being a relative can be stressful, involve great uncertainty and awaken many difficult feelings. It is important to realise that, as a relative, you have the right to your own feelings, and whether they are positive or negative, they are all normal. The tendency to want to help and be there for the sick person is often strong, but it is important to take care of ourselves. First, so that we have something left to give. Relatives should, therefore, always look after their own mental health first, before trying to improve the well-being of others. Sometimes situations or communications that accompany mental illness can be harmful to relatives and then they may need to remove themselves from the situation or significantly reduce the assistance or support provided. If conditions are such that it is not possible to be present and simultaneously cherish your own mental health, then you should always prioritise your own mental health.
When we want and can show support as relatives, it is good to keep a few things in mind. A relative does not always have to offer good advice, but it can be more than enough to be there for the individual in order to listen and show that you care. It can be difficult to fully understand what the struggling person is going through and then the biggest support is often listening and giving the ill person the opportunity to talk about their well-being. It is important to remember that it is all right to allow yourself to feel good and have a good time even though someone close to us is not feeling very good. This can be compared to when the oxygen pressure drops in airplanes, and we are advised to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first and then on the person next to us if they cannot do it themselves. As a relative, it may be good and even necessary to discuss your own feelings with a professional or someone you trust. One should not compare their own feelings to the person who is ill. The stress, distress and feelings that come with being a relative are often grounds for seeking help.