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#MHYALit: Five Ways to Cope: A Survival Guide for Family Members of Those with Mental Illnesses

If 1 in 4 adults suffers from some type of mental illness, and they do, then that means that a significant portion of our teenagers are living in families that are affected by mental illness. Today, as part of the Mental Health in YA Lit Discussion (#MHYALit), guest Deanna Cabinian shares some tips for surviving as a caregiver to those with mental illness. You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.


One thing that isn’t talked about often when talking about mental illness is the effect it can have on family members. I have close loved ones who’ve struggled with OCD, depression, and bipolar disorder and have firsthand knowledge of how difficult it can be for those on the sidelines. Over the last twenty years I’ve developed some strategies for coping. Here are my tips:

  1. Talk about it. Talk to a friend, another family member, or a coworker. Share as much or as little about the situation as you would like. Book an appointment with a therapist if necessary—there is no shame in seeking professional help. Venting about what’s happening in your life helps release some of the stress.
  1. Sweat it out at the gym. Do cardio, yoga, or weight training. Walk around a local forest preserve. Eight years ago, when things were especially hard I took up running in a major way, competing in 5Ks, 10Ks, and at my peak of running fitness a half-marathon. Running was the one activity that calmed my mind down and allowed me to focus on something else rather than what was happening at home.
  1. Keep up with your passions and hobbies. If you love to craft or play the guitar do not give it up just because it might seem selfish under the circumstances. If you start to lose yourself your situation will start to feel even more out of control. Go ahead and take your Wednesday night cooking class. You putting your life on hold is not helping your family member.
  1. Seek out others in similar situations. Talking to people who have been through the same things you have is a relief and makes you feel like you’re not alone. NAMI is a great organization that connects you with others who have been through exactly what you’re going through. They have chapters all over the country. I highly recommend their family to family class.
  1. Write about what’s happening, even if you have no plans to share it. Making a list of what worries you or what frustrates you about a particular situation is another good way to relieve stress. The best part about it is you don’t have to be a writer or like writing to do it. Keep the list around and cross items off if things improve. Better yet, tear the list up—you can always make a new one.

About the Author


Deanna Cabinian has worked in radio, television, and magazine publishing, but her greatest passion is writing. A graduate of Northern Illinois University, she has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a Master’s degree in sport management. Her debut contemporary YA novel, One Night, was released on September 5. Find her online at deannacabinian.com.