How Family Support Groups Are an Essential Part of Your Loved One’s Mental Health Treatment

Family support groups both within and outside of residential treatment centers are useful for the family as a whole and for the individual struggling with mental health issues. These groups connect people with other families going through similar experiences. They offer a chance to share and vent, to learn and grow, and to figure out how to move forward as a family with mental illness. Family support has proven to be a crucial element in the long-term success of individual mental health treatment.

Mental illness is a family illness. And not just because mental illnesses run in families. When someone in the family struggles with depression, anxiety, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, or other mental health conditions, everyone else struggles too.

Because mental illness impacts everyone, it is essential for all of you to be involved in your loved one’s treatment and recovery. There are many ways to do this, including participating in a family support group to learn, share experiences, and get guidance and help from people in a similar situation.

How Mental Illness Affects Families

Mental illness is not contained to one person. It’s complicated and has a ripple effect on other people. A review that looked at nearly 40 studies of the impact of mental illness on family members found that there are several serious potential effects. Siblings, parents, children, spouses, even grandparents of someone with a severe mental illness are at greater risk for:

  • Physical health problems, including insomnia, fatigue, and headaches
  • Mental health symptoms, including depression
  • Divorce
  • Food insecurity
  • Strained home environment and family relationships
  • Poor performance at school, nutritional deficits, and increased mortality for children

Why Is Family Support So Important in Treatment?

Studies like these highlight the fact that mental illness cannot be isolated to one person. Even when treated, one family member’s struggles can cause complications and unintended consequences that impact everyone. This is one reason that getting support for your entire family is important. It benefits everyone and helps protect against these negative risk factors.

Studies have found that family members see major benefits when they join support groups for mental illness: better and more varied coping skills, more effective coping, increased emotional support, an improved social network, a better understanding of their loved one’s mental illness, and improved family relationships.

Another reason to get family support for a loved one’s mental illness is that it helps the individual in treatment and recovery. Researchers have found certain trends when family members are involved in support and treatment:

  • Reduced relapse rates
  • Less hospitalization
  • Higher rates of recovery
  • Reduced rates of incarceration
  • Lowered mental health costs

Participating in Family Support Groups

Family support groups such as the ones offered at BrightQuest are less structured than therapy sessions and offer unique benefits. By joining one of these groups you will have a chance to connect with other families and to share experiences.

The Benefits of Family Support

By participating in family groups you’ll learn more about your loved one’s illness and how other people cope in a similar situation. You and your family will learn to heal from your own personal struggles that have resulted from having a mentally ill family member.

You can also expect to strengthen your bonds and relationships as a family unit. Concepts that you have learned in individual and family therapy will be reinforced and strengthened.

How to Participate in Family Support Groups

When participating in support groups, come with an open mind. If you are not comfortable talking about your family’s personal issues immediately, it is acceptable to listen. You will, though, be expected to contribute eventually, both for your own family’s maximum benefit and to help guide others. Always be honest in these groups but also respectful of other people’s opinions and experiences.

Beyond Support Groups

Support group work with families is essential to thorough mental health care for individuals, but it is not the only way families can and should get involved. It is important for loved ones to get their own mental health care as needed, to participate in family therapy sessions, and to take advantage of any psychoeducation programs offered in order to learn more about mental illness.

Family Therapy

Family, or relationship therapy, is a structured therapeutic session guided by a mental health professional. It can include just you and your family member with mental illness or the entire family. Unlike a support group, the focus will be entirely on you and your loved ones.

A therapist can help you find practical ways to cope with mental illness. You will be able to explore difficult emotions and practice strategies for changing problematic behaviors and to improve communication. Your therapist will help you talk about the past in productive ways and prepare for a better future. Ultimately, therapy helps families to develop more positive, healthy relationships.

Psychoeducation Programs for Family

Many treatment facilities like BrightQuest offer family psychoeducation in addition to therapy and support groups. Depending on the program, it may involve just your family or other families as well. The main goal is to educate families about their loved one’s specific mental illness and how to support them.

The focus of psychoeducation can be tailored to your family’s specific needs. It may include learning about healthy communication, structuring a home routine to stabilize mood, stress management strategies, and even practical factors like resources for vocational education, job skills, and financial support that will help your loved one in recovery.

Studies show that psychoeducation programming reduces mental health relapses, improves recovery for the individual and reduces their symptoms, and enhances and supports positive outcomes for the entire family.

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Family Support After Treatment

No mental illness can be completely cured, but treatment is effective. It can lead to a drastic reduction in symptoms, a greater ability to cope in healthy ways, better daily functioning, and even long periods of recovery with no symptoms. But there is no guarantee that a family member will not relapse or continue to struggle with some degree of symptoms.

One period of residential treatment can make a huge difference in your family’s functioning and the individual’s wellness, but support must be ongoing. It’s easy to get complacent when your loved one comes out of care feeling and functioning so much better. Keep up with outpatient therapy and family support groups to strengthen that recovery.

Your family’s treatment center may offer ongoing support groups that you can participate in even after your loved one has left treatment. There are also plenty of groups available, both online and in person, that you should be able to find in your area.

Once your loved one has gone through treatment and the entire family has put in the work in therapy and support groups, you’re ready to start a better future. Use the tools you learn and the emotional support you benefited from in your group to forge a new path. Create a more loving, healthy home, not just for the family member with mental illness, but for all of you. Doing this successfully takes some trial and error but is much easier when you can rely on good support.

If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with schizoaffective disorders, schizophrenia, and severe bipolar as well as co-occurring substance use disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.