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DHHS Recovery Month: How to Help a Loved One

DHHS Recovery Month: How to Help a Loved One

Lincoln – Living with a chronic illness such as mental illness or substance use disorder can be challenging. September is National Recovery Month, and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Behavioral Health wants Nebraskans to know that there is help and there is hope.

Recovery means a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. “We celebrate the many Nebraskans who are in recovery and experience mental illness and substance use disorders. We are reminded that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover every day,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health. “This month and every month, we hope to reduce the misconceptions that cloud public understanding of mental and substance use disorders. Help is available and it’s okay to ask for it.”

As with any chronic illness, recovery often occurs via intersecting pathways that can include evidence-based treatment, medications, medication-assisted treatment, faith-based approaches, recovery support services, and family support, noted Dawson. Because every person’s path to recovery is unique, it is important that individuals talk to healthcare professionals and/or persons in recovery. This month, start a conversation and help normalize discussion of recovery.

Worried about a loved one who you suspect has a mental illness or substance use disorder? Here’s a way to start the conversation:

  • Talk with them in a quiet, private place when both of you are sober and calm.
  • Try to understand the person’s own perception of their illness or substance use. Ask if they believe their illness or substance use has impacted their day to day functioning.
  • Do not force the person to talk but express your point of view by using “I” statements, such as “I have noticed…”
  • Identify and discuss their behavior rather than criticize their character.
  • Let the person know that you are concerned and willing to help.
  • Listen without judging the person.
  • Treat the person with respect and dignity.
  • Have realistic expectations for the person – their health behaviors may not change right away.

Ways to support those in recovery include:

  • As with any chronic illness, learn as much about mental illness and substance use disorders as you can. Realize that these are brain diseases.
  • Focus on the person, not the illness. People are not their illness.
  • Discuss how you can help, whether that is a ride to the doctor or a shoulder to cry on.
  • Participate in therapy.
  • Remove substances from the home. If you have children, obtain a lockbox for safe storage.
  • Be prepared like with any illness, treatment is not one and done. There will relapses.
  • Be patient and provide hope that change and recovery are possible.

Mental health and substance use disorders often have a significant impact on family and friends who have a loved one struggling with these disorders. Remembering the importance of practicing self-care and seeking education and support if you have a loved one struggling is extremely important. Whether you’re an individual struggling with behavioral health disorders or a family member or friend, seeking resources and support for your own recovery journey can dramatically improve the quality of your life as well as improve outcomes. Understand that there are many pathways to recovery and there is no one right way. Recovery is a very personal journey for each of us.

  • Practice self-care to improve your well-being.
  • Find a local support group for friends and family of a loved one struggling with the various behavioral health illnesses, grief groups, healthy lifestyle groups, faith-based groups, etc. For individuals with substance use disorders groups 12-step groups such as Al-Anon or Alateen, Parents of Addicted Loved Ones support group, and many more are available.
  • Understand the importance of setting boundaries to protect your own physical, spiritual and mental health and well-being.
  • Work on accepting that you didn’t cause the disease but you can manage your own recovery.
  • Seek professional support when needed.

Need to talk?  If you want to feel healthier and further your recovery journey, reach out to your health provider, to faith-based communities, your community center, or a mental health or substance use provider near you. There are resources available to help you and loved ones. They include:

  • The Nebraska Family Helpline, 1-888-866-8660, can help callers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Interpreters are available.
  • The Rural Response Hotline, 1-800-464-0258, offers connections to mental health counseling, information regarding legal assistance, financial clinics, mediation and emergency assistance.   Interpreters are available.
  • If you or a loved one are feeling overwhelmed with emotions, anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255 (English) or 1-888-628-9454.




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