Sunday, August 26, 2012

Taking Steps When You See Mental Illness Relapse Warning Signs

Now that you know the early warning signs of your loved one's relapse, what do you do when you see them?  First, realize that relapses in major mental illness often are connected to one (or more) of these three things:
  1. The person stops taking medication or treatment.
  2. The person is experiencing a high level of stress.
  3. The person is abusing alcohol or drugs. 
The first step to take is to talk about it. Meet as a family, if possible, with the person to explain why you are concerned. You'll need to be specific, explaining what changes in behavior you are seeing and for how long.  Together you can agree about whether this is a problem. If you have a relapse looming, you'll want to look for the three common causes.

Medication: Of course, you will ask if the person has been taking medication. But you may have to do more than just ask. If the person lives with you, you can start to count the pills in the bottle every day. If the person isn't taking the medication, you will need to talk together about why and how. You can help with increased monitoring and reminders. Again, this sounds a lot easier than it is.

Stress: Evaluating your loved one's stress level together can help.  Ask questions like these:
  • Has your loved one experience a recent life event that's stressful?
  • Has there been a significant change in routine over the last two weeks?
  • Has there been a change in the treatment team or plan?
  • Have there been conflicts with family, friends, coworkers or others?
  • Has there been a change in an important relationship?
  • Has there been an increase in responsibilities?
  • Has your loved one stopped participating in activities that he or she enjoyed? 
If your loved one's answers indicate that stress is building, work together to find a way to reduce it. You can reduce responsibilities, cut back on work hours, add more leisure time, and get or give a temporary loan to reduce any money problems.

Alcohol and drugs: Talk about this, and check for evidence.  If you live with your loved one, remove alcohol and drugs from your home.  You'll also want to contact the treatment team to discuss this.

In any case, you should call the psychiatrist and case manager to express your concerns and even suggest a medication adjustment.

Keep an eye on the situation, but do not let it consume your family life.  Keep to your regular routines and make sure you have fun as a family.  Just check back every day or two to determine: Is it getting better, worse or the same?

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