You want to be ahead of the news when walking the journey with your patient. Understanding relapse is an excellent place to get started.
Preventing relapse in mental health treatment has many advantages. To the patient, it enables them to lead a quality life and channel more into their work and families. To the community, it prevents prolonged and repeated episodes of caregiving and dependency.
These are the guidelines to help you identify and prevent relapse before it happens:
Look out for Early Warning Signs
Some relapses are sudden, but most start subtle signs. Learn to recognise when the patient is slipping back to old patterns, such as substance abuse, or social withdrawal.
Other warning signs to watch:
- Too much or too little sleep
- Neglecting Personal Hygiene
- Stopping on Medication, or skipping doses
- Suffering changes in Mood/Becoming tense, irritable or agitated
- Becoming hyper-suspicious or hostile
- Eating too little or too much
- Nonsensical or confusing talk
- Hearing imaginary voices or seeing things others cannot see
- Increase in risk-taking behaviour, e.g., gambling, overspending
Identify the Triggers
Usually, instances of backsliding while on treatment occur when the patient gets exposed to specific situations or behaviours. These are called triggers.
Addressing triggers early enough can help avert a full-on relapse.
For many mental health patients, the triggers are usually the core causes of initial diagnosis. They may include addiction, stress, drug and alcohol misuse, lack of social relationships, and support. Others may be more unpredictable, such as the conflict in marriage or divorce, or losing a loved one.
Familiarise yourself with the patient’s triggers by holding candid discussions with them and studying their medical history. Then take the next step…
Encourage Healthy Coping Skills
Monitor your patient’s lifestyle and see if there are any unhealthy changes in their day-to-day activities.
It’s crucial that the client set aside time for relaxation. This could be through yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises. A walk in nature or talking with a loved one every so often is helpful activities to consider.
Another way to groom coping skills is to encourage the patient to cut on non-essential duties. It can be stressful juggling treatment and a tight schedule at work or home.
Instead, your patients should spend more time on their hobbies, or, put simply, ‘healthy fun.’ This could be taking on volunteer work. Volunteering is not just an excellent way to pass the time; it also gives a sense of meaning and accomplishment.
When things get dull, motivate them to try a new skill, or take a couple of extra class. This could be in something they are passionate about, say photography or knitting. It could also be a subject like Philosophy, as long as it’s not stressful!
Build a Strong Support System
Sometimes, a relapse is as a result of having too much ‘alone’ time, providing a window for negative thought patterns.
Occasionally sparing time to join your patient on that walk in nature is thoughtful. As a caregiver, you are expected to be the patient’s number one social support system. However, you cannot do it alone.
Identify members of the family that the patient enjoys spending time with. Other people to consider are close friends, classmates, or co-workers.
In case you know of good peer support in the area, encourage your patient to join it. Peer groups not only provide a sense of communion; they can be a source of inspiring stories from other patients who have recovered or are in the process of getting there.
Insist on Medication
Remind your patients every so often that recovery is a journey, not a destination. To avoid regressing, it is paramount to keep taking medication according to prescription, even if they insist that they are feeling better. Attending scheduled therapy sessions is also crucial.
As a mental health caregiver, your aim is to see your patients fully recovered. Sustaining recovery by preventing a slip to relapse will get you there faster. Best of luck in your journey!