When a patient is diagnosed with a chronic illness, not only is he the one experiencing this change but his whole family, all going through different emotions at the same time. With the decrease in physical health also comes an increase in mental health concerns. As the frequent hospital visits and medical consultations become the new normal, there can be instances that may bring a flurry of unresolved questions and heightened emotions.
Caregivers, although putting their best foot forward to help the patient cope with the physical illness, sometimes are taken aback with the lack of a positive response or gratitude from the patient. At times it may even seem like an irrational reaction, which may stem out of the emotional turbulence the patient is going through. He or she may not be able to express in words or may not even be aware of the situation. The emotions are like steam in a pressure cooker, needing a way out before exploding into something messier. Here are some suggestions on how to nurture a chronically ill patient’s mental health:
- Actively listen before you offer your advice: While everyone has a word or two of wisdom up their sleeves, it is always better to listen first to what a patient has to say. His thoughts may not be coherent and may not sound logical, but it is always a good strategy to let him finish and try to understand his thoughts behind his comments, before offering your advice.
- Be compassionate: A patient is going through a tirade of emotions while his physical health is in peril, and he knows that he may never be back to his former self. Empathy and compassion for any person undergoing such a drastic transformation helps. Putting yourself in that person’s shoes will help you understand his state of emotions better. However, there is a difference between empathy and sympathy.
- Ask open-ended questions to help them to explain their condition better: Sometimes finding the right words in the middle of an emotional turmoil can be very difficult. You can make the conversation a little easier for the patient by asking open-ended questions.
- Respond calmly when emotions are elevated: Although it is not always an easy thing to do, it is definitely a wise step to deflate the situation. This does not apply to a situation where an outburst becomes violent physically or verbally. In those cases, you should immediately move yourself out of harm’s way.
- Set and respect boundaries: It is important to set boundaries in any relationship whether it is professional or personal. It helps a patient to feel as an individual and gives him a window through which to look at the brighter side. As a caregiver, it is also important for you to gently remind the patient to respect yours.
- Share your feelings and validate yours: Human emotions are complex. Sometimes we keep things to ourselves if we think the other might be offended, ashamed or hurt with that dialogue exchange. An open and honest conversation can clarify doubts and pave the way to a positive and trustworthy relationship. However, choosing the right words is the key.
- Beware of signs of depression: A patient may go into melancholy at any stage of the disease. However, the caregiver is also equally vulnerable to being gloomy and not seeing any hope. Mental health is important for all so lookout for the signs of depression and get help as required.
- Don’t be afraid to seek counseling: Get professional help if you find that you are not able to cope up with any aspect of the caregiving. The exhaustion can be physical or mental. Your physical and mental health is as important as those of the patient.
- Join a support group: There are many support groups that cater to various regions or specializes in one or the other aspects of any illness. Find a support group that is right for you and the patient.
People develop their own coping mechanisms to deal with an illness and its aftermath. Let us know if you want to share any suggestions with fellow passengers in this journey called life.