Recently I discussed a little about what it means to be an e-patient. An e-patient is someone who is empowered, engaged, equipped and enabled (and many other things depending on who you ask). In short, an e-patient is someone who is fully engaged in making mental health treatment decisions.
Now, I am the first person to say that being an e-patient isn’t always possible for a person with mental illness. Often, dealing with the day-to-day slog that is living with a mental illness is quite enough pressure, thank-you, without having to put an “e” in front of your title.
E-Partners, E-Parents, E-Friends
However, even if becoming an uber-patient isn’t on your shortlist of things to do, your loved ones can also become empowered. They can become e-partners or e-parents or e-friends, if you like. And adding an “e” in front of their title can help them to feel less helpless in the face of a daunting illness that they cannot control.
Getting Involved in Mental Health Treatment
The first thing to do if you’re a loved one of a person with a mental illness is to ask this simple question:
Is there anything I can do to help?
This one question is like a magic trick. It shows that you’re willing to help the person with the mental illness, you’re not judging them and you’re prepared to respect their wishes. It can improve your relationship and support ten-fold. Really.
But beyond that, if it’s OK with the person with the mental illness, you can become a real advocate in the treatment of mental illness. You can become the “knowledge repository” or a person to bounce treatment options off of, or a person that can represent the patient’s wishes in the face of doctors. You can become engaged.
How to Become an E-Partner, E-Parent or E-Friend
There are many things you could do to become engaged in mental illness treatment, but here are a few:
- Become a knowledge repository – Get and keep all medical records so they’re always available to the patient and doctors. Believe me, not all doctors have all records, so if you do, you’ll help the process dramatically when the doctor asks, “And what happened when you were on that medication combination (five years ago)?”
- Become a research assistant – Research the mental illness and mental illness treatment options as the patient may be too overwhelmed to do this. Keep printouts of information so you don’t have to remember it, but it is available.
- Advocate for the patient – Take the patient to appointments and sit in with them. Talk to the patient ahead of time about what they want and then represent those wants in the appointment. Ask the questions that the patient needs answered. Be the patient’s back-up for when they need a bit more “oomph” in their argument. Patients are often too overwhelmed to do this themselves.
- Get involved in a support group – You need support too.
Sure, it would be great if every patient managed all these things themselves but that just isn’t reasonable in many cases. And even if you are working with an e-patient, I guarantee, they will appreciate someone with which to share the burden of that title.
And keep in mind, you only have to tackle a tiny piece of that to be useful. No one expects you to be super-partner or super-mom or super-friend, after all, you have your own life too.
How Not to Be an E-Partner, E-Parent, E-Friend
- You are not there to judge the person with the mental illness or their treatment
- You are not there to override the wishes of the patient or steamroll them
- You are not the patient, nor their illness, so do not become co-dependent
Your role is to help, to be a backstop, to be a support and not to nanny the person with the mental illness.
We Love Our Engaged Loved Ones
And also remember that we love anyone who is willing to come on this incredibly difficult journey with us. You are an invaluable part of our support system and we couldn’t do it without you.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.