I’m caring for someone with a mental illness and/or addiction

“I’m currently a caregiver for my elderly father with concurrent disorders and early signs of dementia. With his continued resistance for support and treatment, it makes the caregiving experience a difficult one for me.” – Caregiver

The reality of caregiving for someone with mental illness and/or addictions is unique. There are many factors like stigma, lack of insight and lengthy wait-times for specialized services that create challenges in helping someone you care for find support and how caregivers can find hope.

  • How Can I Help Someone I Care for Access Mental Health and/or Addiction Support?

    A family member (which can include extended family, chosen family or friend) is often the first person to start looking for help for their care recipient.

    A common first contact to reach out to is the care recipient’s primary healthcare provider (e.g., their doctor, nurse practitioner or even pediatrician), as they can:

    • Document symptoms and concerns
    • Provide referrals to community supports or specialists
    • Involuntarily admit the person you care for if they refuse or are unable to seek out help

    Watch the Accessing Mental Health and/or Addiction Support video to learn more strategies on how to help your care recipient access support (if they are willing, unwilling, or unable to).

    These resources are also a good places to start when looking to find help for your care recipient:

  • How Can I Help Someone in a Crisis?

    If you think your care recipient may harm themselves, you, or someone else, then they are experiencing a crisis. You will need to call 911 immediately and advise the operator it is a mental health and/or addiction emergency.

    The best way to prevent a crisis is to get help as early as possible. However, you can’t always prevent a crisis from happening. Here are some tips from caregivers on how you can prepare for a crisis:

    • Understand the symptoms and triggers
    • Have a written crisis plan prepared before it is needed with all appropriate information
    • Have your care recipient participate in this plan when they are well

    “Crisis is inevitable. It’s not a matter of if but when. Don’t beat yourself up if you invested energy in trying to prevent a crisis and it comes anyway. Some things you cannot prevent.” – Caregiver

    Here are some tools to help you and your care recipient during a crisis:

  • How Can I Understand Privacy & Consent Requirements within Ontario?

    When accessing the mental health and addiction system with your care recipient, it may be valuable for caregivers to understand privacy and consent requirements in Ontario.

    Check-out FAQS: On Privacy and Consent for Caregivers Supporting Someone in the Mental Health and Addiction System.

  • How Can OCO Support Your Caregiving Experience?

    OCO co-created an interactive, self-directed eLearning course with caregivers who have lived experience called, Roadmap to Caregiving: The Realities of Mental Illness and Addictions. Caregivers learn how to navigate the unique and challenging experiences when caring for someone with a mental illness and/or addiction. Create a free account through the OCO Learning Library and work through the modules at your own pace.

    The course includes stories shared by caregivers, practical tips, quizzes, reflection exercises, and more. It also includes links to several resources that support and empower caregivers. Read about each module below to see which topics will be covered.

    Module 1: The Unknown
    Reality of Mental Illness and Addictions

    • Learn about your caregiving role & the unique challenges you may encounter
    • Understand mental illness & addictions and its impact on your care recipient

    Finding Your Way Through Uncertainty and Confusion: Warning signs

    • Learn when to seek out help
    • Understand common help-seeking delays and how to address them

    Impact of Stigma: Effects of stigma

    • Learn about stigma and how it effects caregiving
    • Learn about stigma and how it effects healthcare providers
    • Learn how to combat stigma

    Module 2: The Reality of Care
    Finding Support

    • Learn about common first contacts and how caregivers can help their care recipient find support
    • Learn about different strategies when your care recipient is willing, not willing, or unable to seek out help
    • Understand the Mental Health Act within Ontario

    Accessing Support

    • Understand caregiver rights and standards of care to advocate for when treating your care recipient
    • Learn about different types of mental health professionals
    • Understand privacy & consent

    Experiencing ‘Non-Stop Crisis’

    • Recognize the mental and emotional toll of caregiving
    • Understand and recognize the impact of trauma
    • Learn about and recognize hypervigilance, chronic stress & caregiver burn-out

    Module 3: Finding Hope
    Building Resilience

    • Learn about self-care and reflect on caregiver needs
    • Identify caregiving strengths
    • Learn about different supports available and recognize when caregivers may need to seek help

    Managing Critical Life Disruptions

    • Understand the impact on finances, employment, education, and social networks
    • Learn strategies and suggestions

    Managing Expectations & Understanding Recovery

    • Learn about recovery and what it means for caregivers
    • Recognize how caregivers can support the recovery process
    • Understand recovery-oriented strategies
  • Where Can I Find Mental Health and/or Addiction Caregiving Supports?

    The following resources are available specifically to caregivers who are supporting someone with a mental illness and/or addiction. They are available to caregivers across the province.

    If you need more personalized support, give our 24/7 Helpline a call and we can try to help you find specific services!


Strategies from Caregivers to Help Find Hope

As a caregiver, hope means knowing that, in spite of everything that is done, we have done the best we possibly can” – Caregiver

What does ‘hope’ mean to you? Caregivers can experience many hurdles which prevent them from finding a way forward. See below for tips other caregivers have used to find hope.

picture of teacher teaching a subject
Educate yourself about mental illness and addiction
picture of rollercoaster in motion
Set realistic expectations on the recovery journey
picture of que lines
Know your limitations and boundaries
picture of a nature trail with trees
Find moments to yourself
picture of a mega-phone
Advocate and learn how to combat stigma
picture of a band-aid
Don’t take symptoms that cause challenging behaviors personally
picture of an open palm holding a heart
Find and engage in things you enjoy
picture of four people holding hands
Find a community that understands your experience
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