Krista MacKinnon, a parent and a person who is herself in recovery from bipolar disorder, is a nationally-recognized expert in helping families to support their loved ones’ recovery from a behavioral health program.
MacKinnon has created the first online recovery-focused curriculum for family members, called Recovering Our Families. In this short video, MacKinnon describes her journey to creating this family recovery program. She notes that while family members she works with have often been trained to recognize the symptoms of their loved one’s behavioral health condition, “they weren’t educated on seeing their relative’s strengths, noticing they do really well and pointing that out. They weren’t educated on how to have hope for recovery,” she noted.
Here are some general tips for family members and/or caregivers wishing to support their loved one’s recovery:
- Believe your family member can recover
- Read and share stories of hope and recovery (see below for some suggestions to start)
- Practice self-awareness: how do you tolerate uncertainty and handle your own emotions?
- Make your self-care a high priority
- Make sure to have your own support system, whether in person or online
- Have a psychiatric advanced directive in place so you can be confident of your loved one’s wishes in treatment and care, should they become incapacitated
As elaborated in an interview with Psychology Today, MacKinnon’s advice for families is this:
“Try to avoid power struggles and/or getting locked into patterns of non-communication. The best way to do this is to let your heart be vulnerable and open to the person you love as much as possible. Be as curious as you can be about their experience and reality in the moment while simultaneously suspending your judgments, interpretations and advice. Align yourself with them as an ally by valiantly focusing on their strengths, power, possibility, and potential.
Believe in them completely while staying unattached to outcomes and having faith in your own patience. In the process, pay close attention to your inner landscape so that you don’t get compassion fatigue and subconsciously become resentful. If you start noticing internal tiredness or frustration, take action right away by amping up your self-care practices and setting any boundaries or limits that need to be communicated.
Most importantly, remind yourself daily that the only person you have control over is your own self, and focus much of your energy and effort on being your best self, because that will ripple positively towards everyone you love in beautiful ways you can’t even imagine.”
Resources for further exploration:
- Family Education and Resource Center: a listing of local resources and support groups
- Tips for supporting someone with a mental illness (Time to Change, UK charity)
- National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advanced Directives: information and instructions on how to create a PAD
- Family Toolkit and Family Self-Care and Recovery from Mental Illness Workbook (Here To Help.ca)
- The Voices in My Head, TED talk by Eleanor Longden
- You Can Recover Project – ASHA International (nearly 100 short videos)
- The No Stigmas Project – more recovery stories
- I’m good – a blog campaign about mental health recovery (PEERS)