How to Care for a Mentally ill Person

  Just recently, the world woke up to the sad news of the demise of a famous U.S.  Celebrity Chef.  Anthony Bourdain, 61 year old host of the CNN’s Food-and-travel-focused “Parts Unknown”, killed himself in a hotel room in France.

This is how bad untreated mental illness can be. It can get suicidal very fast.

No one is immune to mental illness irrespective of the power you hold, money you have or how perfectly your life seems. Anyone can suffer from mental illness at any point in their lives.

So what is mental illness?

A person is considered mentally ill when they have a wide range of conditions and or disorders that affect their moods, emotions, their thought patterns and behavior.

Mental illness can affects a person’s daily life and make them not function properly or attend to their daily activities such as work or school. However, mental illness is manageable and one can lead a normal life after treatment.

Some of the most common types of mental illnesses in Kenya include Depression, Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Bipolar and Anxiety. Some eating disorders and addictive behaviors are also considered to be mental illnesses.

How can you tell if a person is mentally ill?

If someone you know exhibits four or more of these signs, then it is advisable that you ask them to seek help,

  • Feeling sad or down often times in a week with no concrete reason as to why
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Extremely high or low moods that change often
  • Withdrawing from people close to them like family and friends
  • Altered or confused thinking, they can hardly remember stuff and are unable to concentrate
  • Feelings of extreme anxiety, sudden fear, worries or guilt
  • Insomnia
  • Significantly low energy or total lack of interest in doing anything
  • Having hallucinations, delusions and or paranoia
  • Being overwhelmed with stress; they are unable to cope with daily life problems or stress
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Significant changes in eating habits, either eating too much or too little
  • They have trouble understanding or relating to people or situations
  • They become excessively hostile, angry or even get violent

Sometimes though, people with mental illness may have physical symptoms such as pain in the back, stomach ache, headaches or nausea. It is important that they seek medical attention as soon as possible.

How do you care for a mentally ill person?

The first care you can give to a mentally ill person is to help them seek treatment.

Do research as much as possible to find out information about their illness. It helps to know what they suffer from and what to expect so that you know how to care for them and how to support them.

Accompany them to their doctor’s appointments. While there, try and inquire as much as possible from the doctor about their illnesses.  Ask the doctor about their medications and how to administer them. If possible take the doctor’s contacts so that you can contact them should there be need.

Supervise their medications. A mentally ill person might not be stable enough to give themselves medication. They might forget to take them, take the wrong dosage or take them at the wrong timing. It is important that you keep medicine away from them until they are stable enough. Also, ensure that they do not combine medicine with alcohol or other drugs or even drive while under medication. Their activity must be monitored at all times.

Monitor their mood or behavior to watch out for any side effects of their medications and if you see any alarming change, inform their doctor.

In your absence, you should prepare a list of important contacts for the person you are leaving your loved one with.  Important information to also leave behind is:

  • Medications and instructions of how they should take the medication
  • Early warning signs of a mental illness episode
  • If necessary legal information such as guardian information and power of attorney
  • Previous medications or any other treatment that worked
  • Side effects to be watched out for

How can you help your loved one prevent an episode of mental illness?

You can teach them how to tell the early signs such as trouble sleeping, inability to concentrate and others. Mental illness comes gradually and so once  a patient knows how tell the onset of it the better because they can then seek treatment early enough before it blows off.

You can also help them attend their routine medical care. Most mentally ill patients need to have regular sessions with their psychiatrists. It could be every 3 months or whatever period indicated. Ensure that they attend all the sessions even if they feel  well.

Get them help immediately they need it. It is harder to treat mental illness when the symptoms have taken root.

How is mental illness treated?

Mental illness is treatable and very much manageable. Diagnosis can be through lab tests, a physical exam or a psychological evaluation. Once a mental illness has been diagnosed, treatment is then prescribed depending on the type of illness that you have and the severity of the illness. If your mental illness is very severe, you might be treated with a team of doctors and other healthcare providers.

Treatment can be medical drugs such as anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety or anti-psychotic medications. Another form of treatment is psychotherapy, which involves you talking to your psychiatrist about your condition. Psychotherapy is important for you to learn about your illness and how to cope with it. A good therapist should be a good listener and one whom you are confident and comfortable with. Therapy sessions may be prescribed for  a long period of time and it is important that your loved one attends all of them faithfully.

If the medications and therapy sessions are not working, your loved one may be referred to brain-stimulation treatment as the last resort.


As you see, mental illness is not a strange illness. It is a manageable illness just like other. Now that you are informed, you should be at  a better position to take god care of your loved one.