Mental illnesses affect millions of Americans, but research shows that only about half of this population receives appropriate treatment. Likewise, even with the best treatment, relationships can still be challenging.
If your loved one has a mental illness, it can feel confusing, frustrating, and upsetting. You probably worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. You're also probably feeling tired! You want a meaningful relationship, but you likely don't want to sacrifice your well-being to keep the other person happy.
Boundaries help protect everyone. They're a crucial piece of mental health, and they honor your integrity and personal needs. They also encourage your loved one's independence and problem-solving skills. Let's get into some of the most essential boundaries you need to keep in mind.
Requiring Active Participation in Treatment
Whether it's attending psychotherapy, taking medication as prescribed, or checking in with their case manager or life coach, treatment represents an important part of mental illness recovery. Unfortunately, many people struggle with compliance.
As a loved one, it's important for you to encourage participation. Consider stopping any enabling behaviors should they decide they no longer need care. Remind them that you are happy to support their treatment- whether it's finding the right services, providing financial support, or attending certain groups/therapies with them.
Requiring Respective Language
You inherently deserve respect from your loved one. Suffering from a mental illness doesn't give anyone the right to mistreat or harm you. It also doesn't mean they can trample over your boundaries and disregard your needs.
Respective language may have different meanings for different people. Think about what this idea means to you. It may mean no cursing in your home. It may mean avoiding gossiping or calling names. Finally, it may also refer to tone- for example, they can't yell when they're around you.
Reaching Out to Law Enforcement As Necessary
In some cases, people may threaten to harm themselves or others if things don't go their way. This can feel incredibly terrifying. Of course, you don't want anyone to get hurt.
With that in mind, this kind of behavior can also be abusive and, at times, manipulative. Even if their motives aren't malicious, this may be a way they know how to seek attention and elicit empathy.
If this happens to you, remind your loved one that you will call 911 or reach out for the appropriate help. It's not your job to thoroughly assess their plan, intent, or means to carry out their desire. This boundary also models that you take any threats seriously, even if they insist they're just joking.
Refusing to Be a Piggy Bank for Things You Don't Support
If you provide financial assistance for your loved one, you have every right to set boundaries around this money. For example, it's perfectly reasonable to offer them an amount that feels appropriate to you. It's also reasonable to refuse to give additional money if they run out or ask for more.
If you're concerned about misuse of funds, you can consider other financial limits, such as:
paying for bills/rent directly instead of giving them cash for it.
providing a fixed weekly or monthly allowance and sticking to that amount no matter what.
refusing to bail them out of jail or other legal issues.
stopping financial support if they engage in inappropriate behavior (drugs, gambling, etc.)
Prioritizing Your Self-Care
It's easy for loved ones to lose themselves when taking care of someone else. You may neglect basic needs, like good hygiene, sleep, or a healthy diet. Your other relationships might also suffer if you spend most of your time attending to your loved one.
Self-care is a boundary you can set for yourself. It means that you choose to honor your needs and treat yourself with compassion. Regardless of what's going on with your loved one, you choose to still prioritize your well-being.
Remember that self-care is a lifelong journey. It can be challenging, especially if you have low self-esteem, often struggle with pleasing others, but it's one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
It also sends a strong message to your loved one! They aren't your sole focus- you love them and will help them, but you aren't going to let their issues take up all your mental space.
Final Thoughts on Setting Boundaries When Your Loved One Has a Mental Illness
Boundaries are difficult. If they were easy, most family dynamics would be perfect and carefree. But we know that reality just doesn't work that way. Effective boundaries require practice, consistency, and a serious commitment.
At The Mental Health House, we believe mental illness recovery should include individuals and their loved ones. Even if there isn't a cure, there is an opportunity for profound healing. Do you want to hear more about the support we provide? Contact us today!