How to Help a Patient with Mentally Illness


Volunteers who are caring for the mentally ill often ask: “What should I say?” There is no magic formula, no easy answer, but with care and thought it is unlikely that anything you do or say will be harmful to the patient. If in doubt, try listening rather than talking.

Listening is often of great value. Many patients are able to unburden themselves of great misery simply by talking to a sympathetic listener who is not too busy to spend some time with them. Sit quietly, give the patient your undivided attention and you may find that you only need to smile or nod and he will be encouraged to continue. If he does not talk, just sit with him in a companionable silence. This is very comforting and is often appreciated, as the patient feels he matters to someone.

Just as the patient’s spiritual adviser brings help and comfort in physical illness, he may also be of help in a mental illness. If the patient wishes it, inform the relevant person and give him the opportunity to visit. Both the patient and his family may benefit. You may also benefit: his knowledge of the patient, his family, and their cultural and religious customs may prove very useful.

The patient in the community

The patient who is being cared for in the community needs the support of his family, employer and friends. They must accept him as he is, realizing that the behaviour which seems odd or irrational to them is quite rational to him. All he says and does will be affected in some way by his illness.

The patient who has been in hospital

If the patient’s condition required his admission to hospital, his subsequent return home is often effected gradually. First he goes home for weekends and then, as he improves, for longer periods, until his final discharge. Once home he may still require help and support, so he and his family will be visited regularly either by some of the team who cared for him in hospital or their community counterparts.

Sometimes the transition from hospital to home is too difficult and the patient may go first into a special hostel, a halfway house. From the hostel he goes to work, visits his family and friends, but has expert support when he needs it. When his self-confidence has returned he can resume life at home.

The majority of patients spend less than six weeks in hospital, but a return to full health takes longer than this. The majority are cured quite quickly; some take longer, but only a few are incurable.

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About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.

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