Support for Family Members & Caregivers

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Support for Family Members & Friends

How to Help Your Loved One

When a loved one is diagnosed with a mental health condition, you might be unsure of how it will affect your relationship. You also might be wondering how you can help. Classes and support groups are a great resource to help learn how a loved one can give support. 

What is a mental illness?

A mental illness is a health condition that affects your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. Without effective treatment, it can affect the quality of your daily life, including how you interact with others and how you operate throughout the day.

Mental illnesses are common—1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental health condition. However, they are also treatable.

What is the cause?

There is no single cause for mental illness. Factors may include your genes and family history, your life experiences, and your biology (i.e., chemical functioning in the brain). Having a mental illness should never be a cause for shame or embarrassment.

What are the symptoms?

Trying to recognize the signs of a mental illness isn’t always easy. Each illness has its own symptoms, which may affect individuals differently.

Below are some common signs in adults and adolescents. If you or a loved one have been experiencing any of these symptoms over at least a two-week period, consider finding a doctor.

·       Excessive worrying or fear.

·       Feeling excessively sad or low.

·       Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger.

·       Avoiding friends and social activities.

·       Difficulties understanding or relating to other people.

·       Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired with low energy.

·       Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite.

·       Changes in sex drive.

·       Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality).

·       Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs.

·       Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains.”)

·       Thinking about suicide.

·       Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress.

·       An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance.

Children may experience:

·       Changes in school performance.

·       Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school.

·       Hyperactive behavior.

·       Frequent nightmares.

·       Frequent disobedience or aggression.

·       Frequent temper tantrums.

How is a mental illness diagnosed?

Steps to getting a diagnosis may include a medical and family history review, a physical exam, including possible lab tests, and a mental health evaluation. You’ll also be asked questions about your daily thinking, feelings, and behaviors.


What does treatment look like?

Individuals may experience the same illness in different ways, varying in severity and impact. As a result, there is no “one size fits all” approach. Treatment usually involves a combination of therapy, medicine, education, and social support through friends and family. In some cases, you may need more intensive treatment. In the hospital, you will get counseling and engage in group activities with mental health professionals as well as other patients.

*“About Mental Illness,” National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

ADHD is a developmental disorder defined by lack of attention (i.e., trouble staying on task), disorganization (i.e., frequently losing keys or materials), and hyperactivity (i.e., fidgeting or difficulty staying seated).

Anxiety Disorders may arise when daily anxiety begins to interfere with everyday life. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various fear-related disorders.

Bipolar Disorders cause unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

Depression is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.

Eating Disorders are not a lifestyle choice, but are serious and fatal illnesses associated with severe disturbances in eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Concern about food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.

Schizoaffective Disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania and depression, frequently associated with bipolar disorder.

Schizophrenia interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. Symptoms may include hallucinations or delusions. 

Below are further resources to help you or a loved one better understand mental health conditions, including answers to your frequently asked questions (FAQs) and information on common mental health conditions. If you are currently experiencing a mental health crisis or are trying to get help for a loved one in crisis, please call:

·       Call: 888-NYC-WELL (888-692-9355)

·       Text: WELL to 65173

·       Chat:


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Care for the Caregiver

Caring for a family member or loved one is not an easy job. Stepping in to help friends, relatives, neighbors or life partners with health problems or disabilities is often an unpaid and comes with many physical, emotional, and economic challenges. EmblemHealth's Care for the Family Caregiver initiative recognizes the health needs of these caregivers and is designed to serve as a resource to them.