The Role of Family in Treating Mental Illness

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In recent decades, the treatment of most patients with mental disorders has generally switched from institutionalized care to outpatient care. Getting the family involved has been shown to lead to better outcomes. Unfortunately, there is still some resistance among mental health professionals to just how involved families can become.

A big part of the problem is that most doctors believe that patient confidentiality must be protected, even when preserving confidentiality may mean that patients are missing out on support and help that could be of great benefit to them1. Because of the nature of many mental illnesses, patients may not be able to grasp the benefits of waiving confidentiality and getting families involved.

Confidentiality Paradox in Treating Mental Illness

Many patients with mental illness find it hard to live organized lives. While there are useful medications to treat many mental disorders, the nature of many of those illnesses means that patients cannot be relied upon to supervise their own medication. It has fallen to other family members to ensure that the mentally ill person takes the prescribed dose at the appointed times.

As more and more health professionals are beginning to grasp the benefits of family involvement, they are amenable to involving the family while not disclosing everything. They strike a balance between the need for confidentiality and the need to ensure the patient gets the best possible treatment.

What Can Families Do to Help Treat Mental Illness?

Families can learn about the mental disorder their loved one has2. They can find out what symptoms are associated with the illness. They can prepare plans to deal with any problems that may arise. Families can find out what mental services are available in the area, and they can ensure their loved one can get access to these services.

One of the most important roles families can play is monitoring their relative’s progress, and watching out for signs of relapse. They also play a vital role in monitoring the use of medication. Families can help their relatives by learning about side effects and how to deal with them.

People with mental illness can benefit from engaging in healthy and creative activities, just like those with other types of illness. Families can be instrumental in getting relatives to lead active social lives. They can encourage relatives to get plenty of exercise, or to join clubs that allow them explore their creative talents. Art therapy, and other forms of creative expression are very beneficial.



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