Guide to Helping Someone with a Mood Disorder

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It can be difficult for families and friends to help someone who has a mood disorder. We've put together a few suggestions that may help you help someone receive treatment or help someone manage treatment once diagnosed. Don’t forget to seek out support for yourself as you support your loved one.

1. It's not your fault. You did not cause your family member's illness nor will you find a cure. A mood disorder is an illness, plain and simple.

2. You are not alone. Millions of families are caring for someone with a mood disorder. You can meet them through peer support groups. The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario has peer support
groups just for families.

3. Your emotions and reactions are normal. You may experience a variety of emotions – from compassion and understanding to frustration and anger. These feelings are to be expected and understood but they should also be not get in the way of your relationship with your loved one. Try not to take your loved one's behaviour personally. Remember, it is often the illness, not them, that you're witnessing.

4. Take care of yourself. Set healthy boundaries and limitations on how much you will do. Make sure you take time for yourself and for pleasurable activities away from your loved one. Remember, you
are no good to your loved one if you get sick too.

5. Find social support. Dealing with a mood disorder in your family can be very lonely and isolating. Your friends simply cannot understand what you and your family are going through. Make sure
you find sources of social support in your community. We recommend our peer support groups or one of the family focused organizations listed below.

6. Knowledge is power. Learn as much as you can about your loved one's illness and the treatment options. Don't be afraid to advocate for the best possible care on behalf of your loved one.

7. Remember that life is a marathon not a sprint. Progress is made in small steps and sometimes there appears to be no progress at all. Applaud progress and provide encouragement during the low

8. Remember that you are only human. Don't forget that you are not omnipotent and that you do not have the power to change the neurochemistry in your loved one's brain. You can only do the best
you can.

9. Develop a crisis plan. Talk to your loved one about what will happen in the event of a crisis, under various circumstances. Put the plan in writing.

10. Never lose hope. Remember that mood disorders are treatable illnesses. They are sometimes cyclical so sometimes the going will get real tough. Sometimes you will feel overwhelmed. Just remember that the right treatment is out there. Stay optimistic, for you and for your loved one. And never forget that you are not alone.

Recommended Reading

All Together Now: How families are affected by depression and manic depression, Health Canada, CMHA, 1999

Family Healing: Strategies for Hope and Understanding, Minuchin, Salvador & Nichols, Michael P., Touchstone, 1993

My Sister's Keeper: Learning to cope with a sibling's mental illness, Moorman, Margaret, Penguin Books, 1993

Nothing to Be Ashamed Of: Growing Up with Mental Illness in Your Family, Dinner, Sherry H., Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1989


Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere (FAME)

Families for Depression Awareness

National Family Caregivers Association

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance 

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)