A problem faced by many caregivers of persons with mental health issues is how to communicate with their loved ones. You care deeply, but it may be hard to translate your emotions into words. In our cultural context, it may also seem unnecessary to speak of love. To traditional Asians, love is reflected in actions, such as preparing a meal for your family, or scolding and correcting them if they are not doing the right thing.
But what if your daughter, diagnosed with schizophrenia, is refusing to eat the food that you have prepared? She may be operating out of a sense of paranoia and fear, that her food has been poisoned. Perhaps she believes you have been mixing medications into her drinks, and wants to avoid medications at all costs as she thinks it will make her ill – that she will get worse, not better.
And what if she seems to have lost her trust in you, her main caregiver? She spends most of her time hiding in a cramped, airless cupboard, thinking that this is the only way to keep safe. What should you do then? During COVID-19, the situation may be exacerbated. Aside from dealing with the issue of psychosis, you also need her to know that she must stay home and practise personal hygiene so as to keep the virus at bay.
Even if your loved one at this time may not seem to be aware or appreciative of your efforts, spending time together can create bonds and shared spaces.
Here are some concrete tips that you may find useful as a caregiver of persons with mental health issues:
1. Work with a trusted family member or friend
Communication is more effective when the other person is open to receiving information and advice. As such, it is useful to identify a family member or friend that your loved one trusts and is open to communicating with.
After identifying the trusted person, discuss with this person what needs to be communicated, and have that person talk to your loved one.
Keep the lines of communication open so that the trusted person can keep you posted on what happens, and remain approachable to your loved one in case he or she decides to seek your point of view.
2. Do an activity together
It is important that you continue to do things together, even if it is something as simple as doing stretching exercises for 10 minutes, or watching his or her favourite TV show after a meal.
Communication is not limited to conversations with or advice given to your loved one. It can also be conveyed through these simple activities. Even if your loved one may not seem to be aware or appreciative of your efforts at this time, spending time together can create bonds and shared spaces.
3. Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes
This can be very difficult because it is hard to understand or rationalise why your loved one does what he or she does. However, you can improve your communication significantly by practising empathy. Be understanding of what he or she is going through, be patient and recognise his or her strengths.
Where to seek help
The mental health community is always here to support you if you would like more information or advice. You are not alone!
For further support in your caregiving journey, do reach out to Caregiver Alliance Ltd: www.cal.org.sg
If you find yourself in a crisis situation, do call the Institute of Mental Health Helpline at 6389 2222.
The contributor is a Programme Manager at the Agency for Integrated Care.