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Mental Illness Guide: Care, Support, and Education
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How can I help my relative get things done?

Why does my relative have so little energy?

Lack of energy or interest in life is a common symptom of some mental illness.  It is not that the person with mental illness is being lazy.  It is a symptom of the disease.  For people with mental illness, this lack of energy sometimes enables them to do little more than sleep or pick at meals.  They prefer to be alone, they may have no interest in any activities, and they find it very hard to get excited or motivated by anything. 

Some people with mental illness feel incapable because they have internalized the stereotype of mental illness.  The person feels like a failure at doing what was once the simplest thing, like going to the store.  This feeling of failure takes away the desire to try to do anything, no matter how small, because of the fear that he/she cannot do it.  

What can I do to help?

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Help your relative set some short-term goals 

These should be goals you are sure they can reach.  Set the goals together.  At first, set short-term, small goals.  Do not worry about big goals yet.  In the beginning, the goal might be to take a shower each morning before breakfast.  

bulletBe enthusiastic as small goals are accomplished 

It is important to be positive and not critical.

bulletAgree on small goals

If you cannot agree on your relative’s long-term goals (such as, “I want to be a rock star”), you may be able to agree on smaller goals, like getting along with people, remembering to do a chore without being told.

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Use rewards to get the person started

Use rewards to get the person started, and then slowly change to getting things done without rewards.  “You did such a good job getting your room cleaned up.  I am going to get you some of those cookies you like so much.”  Remember, the room does not have to be spotless.  It just has to be cleaner than it was!

bulletUse rewards to teach how good it feels to get things done 

Reward the person with mental illness for remembering to do something, for acting alone, or for keeping an effort going.

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Be a good influence 

Do the things you say you will do.  Behave in the way you would like to see your relative behave.   But remember, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”  Each person still must decide what things they are willing to do.

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Certain medications may make some symptoms worse, such as causing a lack of energy 

If that is a real problem, a change in the type or dose of medication might be helpful.  It could be worthwhile to discuss this with your relative’s doctor.