Sharing moments Menopause Young adults Bye bye Hotel Mum How you feel at home Semester abroad Language course abroad or work as an au pair? Be prepared for military training Grassrooted Pack smarter, travel better Make an impression Contraception Vegan diet Bye bye Hotel Mum – hello shared flat Big trip, small budget Finanzielle Vorsorge Planning a family Tracking fertility The right time? How men can help Fertility and diet Medical check-up What you need to know about ovulation What to do if you don’t conceive straight away Three electronic fertility and cycle trackers in comparison Planning a family and partnership Pregnancy Examinations during pregnancy Diet and nutrition Is my pregnancy progressing normally? Tips for daily life Important points for travel and holidays Is my pregnancy progressing normally? What items do I need for my baby? Where and how do I want to give birth? What do I need to pack for the hospital? How should I prepare my home for my child? Is my pregnancy progressing normally? How can I best prepare for my baby? How can I best prepare for the birth? Nutrition Parent-child relationship Preparing for breastfeeding | Sanitas Magazine Insurance Stretch marks Sleep Rupture of membranes Baby blues High-risk pregnancy Braxton Hicks & false labour Formalitites Morning sickness Family rooms Our baby Bathing baby – what you need to know How babies hear Infant first-aid kit Baby care Is my baby developing normally? Month-to-month overview of baby development Is my baby developing normally? Baby’s development: Months 3 and 4 Baby care Breastfeeding When does a baby start eating? Weight Baby growth spurts Toys Sun protection for baby skin Teething Milk teeth: what to do in case of accident Baby’s development: Months 5 and 6 Pelvic floor exercises after birth Babyschlaf Celebrating and enjoyment Christmas and New Year’s Eve with a twist A philosophical take on pleasure Pleasure can also be found in the soup kitchen in Zurich Tips for a peaceful and stress-free Christmas Living better with cardiac insufficiency Alejandro Iglesias Hana Disch Patrizio Orlando Vaccinations and travel first-aid kit Hay fever In pursuit of happiness Seven tips for a happier daily life Kids in lockdown Online addiction Women's hearts Decisions Decision-making tips Report from the hospital Donating a kidney Life decisions Emigrating to South America Geocaching Sexuality Be active Active during pregnancy Sport and exercise during pregnancy Antenatal exercise classes Standing properly Healthy eating Green smoothies Vitamin D Good eggs, bad eggs Diet plan Healthy fats Feed your muscles How much sugar should we eat a day? How much fat should we eat a day? Lactose intolerance Healthy diet, strong immune system Low Carb E-numbers and other additives in food Personalised diet Healthy heart Interview with Christophe Wyss Heart-friendly sports How the mind affects the heart Taking blood pressure correctly High blood pressure: what you need to know Healthy teeth Home remedies: relief for sore gums A dentist explains Brushing up on brushing Changing habits Interview Stortpsychologie 10-step guide to changing habits Try, try, try again Fitnessmotivation Running coaching Running ABC Race in Sarnen Factors affecting condition Weekly planner Running shoes Strengthening exercises Running nutrition Complementary sport Warm-up Stretching Functional clothing Fitness tracker Shopping – sportswear Running tips for women Relaxation technique Recovery New lease of life thanks to Sanitas running coaching Sport after childbirth Postnatal exercise Taking the strain off your shoulders Kangatraining Workout while walking Expert tips Stress and relaxation Moving air Fight stress with yoga What is stress Learn how to relax Dealing with stress What is burnout? “The first step was to create boundaries” Juggling family and a career Reduce stress Stressor factors The most beautiful Swiss saunas Sweating in the sauna Breathing exercises for relaxation The right rest & recovery: debunking myths Mindfulness Sleep Trend sports Fitness boxing Slackline Bouldering Fascia training Stand Up Paddling Keeping fit efficiently Swing with a smile! Vertical workout Hiking Altitude sickness Seven stroller-friendly hikes Needed: a hiking-friendly pushchair There goes the other sole! Tips on hiking with a baby Mountain lakes Planning a family: Fertility and exercise Stair climbing Pumptrack Kids’ back Back exercises Sitting properly at work Forest fun Playing for life Promoting health and fitness Motivation Sledging Curling glossary What do you get if you cross a kite with snow? Snowshoeing Preventing falls Inline skating Swimming Swimming Wings for Life Stretching Bike tips Stretching exercises for cyclists koerper-und-kaelte Healthy teeth thanks to dental hygiene and preventive care Putting wishes into practice Tips for healthy teeth Hometraining Investigating teeth-related myths 10 tips to ease anxiety Hand care How our body regenerates The best abdominal exercises in five minutes Keeping fit on holiday Swim training aids Wie viel Sport ist gesund Gathering mushrooms – the right way | Sanitas Magazine Check-ups Five-minute stretching routine Gehirntraining Rückenschmerzen Licht Yogastile Ayurveda-Morgenroutine Tips for doing sport outside in winter Cross-country skiing for beginners Home remedies against dandruff Home remedies Home remedies for bladder infections Home remedies for a sore throat Home remedies for migraines Home remedies against excessive sweating Home remedies for a sun allergy Healthy feet, healthy back core exercises for mountain bikers Symptoms Check Sport after Corona HIIT: quick and efficient exercises Sore muscles: debunking myths Debunking swimming myths strength training for young people Exercise videos Whole-body workout Sun protection Strong mind How to be mentally strong Mental strength Psychosomatics Resilience Tips against feeling down Sleep hygiene and mental well-being Depression Panic attacks Prescription drug addiction ADHD: Symptoms in children and adults Mental illness: help for friends and family Living with autism Pressure to perform Alcoholism Blood: myths and facts Hormones Living together today Digital life Online addiction Digital temptation Children and digital media Smartphone neck Digital responsibility and solidarity Our brains love habit Change my habits? You’re joking! Planning a family: Difficulties trying to have a baby Planning a family: Myth vs fact Solidarity study Newcomers Living together tomorrow Digital nomads Giesserei multi-generation house The blind film director Help instead of rent Working on the move Medical practices of the future Our skin – layer by layer Generational discussion: wishes for life Hausarzt und Corona Safe return to work Corona crisis: singing together Corona crisis: Working in intensive care Corona crisis: working in a nursing home Rest and recovery: learning from children Corona crisis: voluntary work for the needy Second opinion Relationships and children Three questions that keep us awake at night Outing The nature of lying Vorsorge Finding sound health-related information online Impfstoffe entwickeln Tipps für Jugendliche in der Corona-Krise Becoming parents Diagnose: Kind im Haus Long Covid Take it easy in your free time YouTuber Aditotoro on the coronavirus pandemic Minimalism for a happy life Thanks to corona: more time for family Back to life after a paragliding accident Decluttering: the answer to chaos Living and loving with autism Synaesthesia Talking to doctors Non-verbal communication Developments for the future App check Aqualert SRC blood donor Codecheck Forest Freedom Freeletics Moment Three sleep apps reviewed PeakFinder Findery Six fitness apps reviewed Internet use High-tech trousers Prostheses Hospital of the future New skin for burns victims Online-Therapien How drugs are developed Generics A vision of the future: How we will live in 30 years Onward Overcoming erectile dysfunction Family medicine practices of the future Sanitas newsletter
Dossier: Strong mind

Mental illness: help for friends and family

Sorgen, Ängste, Ohnmacht: Living with people struggling with their mental health can cause worry, anxiety and a feeling of helplessness. But it is often only the patients themselves who get help, while friends and family have to suffer alone. Where can they find advice and support?

Text: Katharina Rilling; photo: Unsplash

She’s not the person I married, it’s not my child, my father, my friend: If a close family member falls ill, it can turn the world on its head not only for the patient but also those around them. “It’s painful to see how a loved one changes as a result of a mental illness. Friends and family often feel helpless,” says Yvonne Schwarzer from VASK Zurich.

The VASK Switzerland umbrella organisation brings together the regional and cantonal associations of relatives of mentally ill people. “And they also feel responsible for that person’s well-being and all that this involves. Estimates indicate that relatives are responsible for 70% of the care needed for people struggling with their mental health.” Schwarzer has first-hand experience. She is not only affected herself, but also runs the VASK Zurich helpline. Every day she hears countless stories of people struggling with their daily lives. “It can quickly become too much for friends and family. They only function on autopilot.”

Will it ever stop?

Parents, siblings and partners, but also friends turn to the helpline for advice. What do they have in common? Constant concern for the person suffering. The worries are ever present: during the day, when they go to bed and when they get up in the morning. Common questions include: Will my son ever be happy again? Will my partner ever be able to return to work? How will we manage financially in the future? What will happen if my mum is sectioned? And afterwards? And just generally: Will the suffering ever come to an end? 

Of course, Yvonne Schwarzer can’t answer all these questions in a 45-minute chat. But she can give them confidence and show understanding: “These people are primarily looking for someone to talk to who understands their situation. And it gives them peace of mind to have a number they can always call if they need to.” 

Non-stop worries

A sounding board – friends and family of patients can sometimes go unnoticed, with little time or energy remaining for their needs and worries in everyday life. Schwarzer says: “Of course, the family member suffering from depression or schizophrenia gets all the attention. They often only think of themelves and behave inconsiderately. They get treatment and are supported by doctors. But what about their partner or mother who is suffering as a result of the illness? They are often forgotten.”

Relatives should seek help at the latest when their thoughts constantly revolve around their loved one’s illness, because the constant worry will make them sick, too. As Schwarzer says, during therapy it’s important to talk not only about the patient’s needs, but their own needs, too. “Many people find this difficult. After all, they are not clinically ill, but now find themselves in the spotlight.”

In addition to advice and therapy, it can also help to talk in a self-help group. That’s why VASK Zurich offers guided meetings. “It doesn’t really matter what the particular mental health problems are, the worries and fears are all the same,” says Yvonne Schwarzer. As well as being worried about the patient, they also blame themselves: Is it my fault? Did I notice the changes too late? What did I do wrong? “These thoughts make you feel bad but won’t make the illness disappear,” says Schwarzer matter-of-factly. “There’s no point looking back. You’ve got to try to look to the future.” 

“You shouldn’t always be having to bite your tongue.”

Courage and strength

But how can you make sure that you don’t neglect your own well-being when the going gets tough and daily life is stressful? “Try not to take the difficult behaviour of the person struggling with their mental health personally,” says Schwarzer. It’s also important to understand that you can’t change the perception of a person suffering from depression or schizophrenia. But you also have to express your own needs. “You shouldn’t always be having to bite your tongue.”

It is important to draw boundaries, explains Schwarzer, as she recalls a case where the parents of a mentally ill man suffered greatly because he kept walking into their house unannounced. ​ Even as parents, you have to be able to say a clear “No”. “It’s a long and difficult journey that takes courage and strength. You have to find a balance: You shouldn’t take on all the responsibility, and should encourage the patient to take on responsibility for themselves. Eventually you’ll regain more freedom.”

It may be a good idea to repeat Yvonne Schwarzer’s mantra now and again: “Patients feel better if their friends and family are happy.”