Family Healing When Your Loved One is Struggling With Both Schizoaffective and Bipolar Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder often co-occur, and both cause severe, difficult symptoms. Receiving help is necessary to learn to live well with these conditions, but family must also be involved. The damage that serious mental illness does to families may seem insurmountable, but there is hope. Healing from the harm caused by schizoaffective and bipolar disorder requires engagement, support, and hard work in therapy.
Severe mental illnesses like bipolar and schizoaffective disorder can be extremely destructive to families. These conditions in one family member can lead to resentment, broken relationships, and even violence or lasting trauma. Healing from mental illness requires more than just help for the person with the diagnosis. The entire family must participate, support, learn, and heal together.
When one member of a family struggles with one or more mental illnesses, everyone is involved, whether they want to be or not. Mental illness does not occur in a vacuum. The causes are complicated and likely include neurochemical factors, but also genetics and the environment.
Mental illness has a hereditary component, so rarely does just one family member have symptoms or a diagnosis. Even when there is just one diagnosis, the family dynamic contributes to symptoms and outcomes. Every member of the family experiences the consequences of one person struggling with mental illness, especially severe conditions like bipolar or schizoaffective disorder.
Everyone struggles, even to the extent that some family members become traumatized. A known risk factor for post-traumatic stress disorder is family mental illness. Even without trauma, the complications of the mental illnesses are significant for every member of the family. Getting help for the patient is important, but just as essential is healing for the whole family. Take active steps to heal and strengthen your relationships.
Learn More About Schizoaffective Disorder and Bipolar Disorder
For the family to heal from the experiences of these mental illnesses, it’s important to understand them. Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes a cycle of high and low moods, known as mania and depression. When manic, a person has high energy, feels euphoric, and may engage in risky, impulsive behaviors. During depression they are apathetic, fatigued, and sad.
Schizoaffective disorder causes psychosis, much like schizophrenia, including delusions and hallucinations. The bipolar type also causes cycles of mania and depression. Substance use disorders commonly co-occur, complicating symptoms, diagnosis, and the healing plan. It is also common that someone gets a diagnosis of bipolar disorder before or along with schizoaffective disorder.
Getting help for both of these conditions is a must. They do not simply go away or get better without professional support. A mental health recovery plan includes therapy and counseling combined with medications. For severe mental illnesses like bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, residential mental health care is often the best option.
Knowing more about your loved one’s mental illness will help you understand that they are not trying to hurt you. They may struggle to know what is real and what isn’t. They may lash out because of symptoms. Learn more about the conditions through a family psychoeducation program for important perspective.
Engage in the Recovery Plan
Getting help for a family member with schizoaffective and bipolar disorders is essential. As they learn to live with their illnesses and manage symptoms, the entire family benefits. This is the starting point for healing and mending relationships, but it isn’t enough.
Everyone must engage in the recovery process, both to support and help their loved one and for their own healing. Family involvement is an important component of the best mental health facilities. It can take many forms, including family therapy, support groups, psychoeducation, and family days.
Being an active part of your loved one’s recovery plan allows you to learn with them, but also get many other healing benefits. You will:
- Learn how to create new, healthier behavior patterns
- Explore the ways in which a family member’s illnesses have impacted everyone
- Communicate in more productive ways
- Rebuild relationships harmed by mental illness
- Change destructive family roles, such as the enabler or the scapegoat
- Learn how to actively support the family member living with mental illness
- Figure out how to make positive changes to the home for aftercare
- Learn about ongoing healthcare and aftercare
Any level of engagement will be useful, but get involved as much as is allowed and possible for the best results.
Be Honest With Each Other
You will want to be strong for your loved one receiving help, but avoid hiding your own struggles. Everyone in the family needs support and guidance through this difficult situation. You cannot heal together if you do not admit to and share your own struggles.
Be open with each other, talk about how your loved one’s bipolar and schizoaffective disorder has affected you. Even when it’s hard to discuss, tell the truth. A great way to do this is in family therapy where a professional can act as a guide. Therapy is a safe place to be open and to share.
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Attend Family Support Groups
Exploring the consequences of a loved one’s schizoaffective disorder is difficult. Support from other families who have been in a similar situation is a powerful means to further the healing process. It is an opportunity to share, learn, vent, and learn from others. Families may choose to attend together or individually, but both are helpful.
Develop a Healthy Lifestyle, Together
Every choice you make impacts mental health, so managing mental illness and healing from the experiences of having a loved one with these conditions is about more than therapy. Support your new growth and healing by making more positive choices in all areas of life. If you can do this together as a family, it will contribute to the healing process.
Start by assessing your current lifestyle. Do you spend more time watching TV than talking? Do you exercise? Do you drink a lot? Change isn’t easy, so begin with one area to change. For instance, you could start eating healthier. Make meals together and eat at the dining room table instead of separately or in front of the TV. Healthy habits will help you heal, but doing them together will make the change even more powerful.
Know When to Seek Individual Care
Sometimes the damage done by mental illness is severe, extensive, and long-lasting. Schizoaffective and bipolar disorder can be particularly traumatic to live with in a loved one. Your family member with these conditions may have traumatized you in a number of ways, through their frightening hallucinations, impulsive and dangerous behaviors, or even violent outbursts.
If you, or anyone else in the family, have gone through steps to heal, including engaging in mental health care, learning about mental illness, and working with support groups, and still struggle, you may need your own help. If you have turned to drugs or alcohol to cope, you will benefit from substance use disorder help.
Know when it’s time to get your own mental health evaluation and care. Even if you do not receive a diagnosis, therapy can help you process your experiences, heal, and move on to a better relationship with your family.
Schizoaffective and bipolar disorders are serious mental illnesses that can wreak havoc on families and relationships. Remember that this is not your loved one’s fault, or anyone else’s. Mental illness can happen to anyone. It’s how you cope with it that matters. As a family, you can choose to ignore the problem or take active steps to heal.