Valerie D. Cordero, Ph.D.
Co-Executive Director, Families for Depression Awareness
Many of us spend time with families over the holidays, giving us a chance to catch up and check in. When a loved one with depression or bipolar disorder declines to join in the celebration, is behaving uncharacteristically, or is facing a challenging situation, it may rightfully raise concerns among the rest of the family. If you want to work together to help your loved one, we have a strategy to offer: the Family Action Plan.
Recent Care for Your Mind posts have addressed the importance of sharing family mental health history and of creating a psychiatric advance directive, both of which rely on conversations with family about mental health. When a family is affected by depression or bipolar disorder, it works well for everyone to have information about mood disorders, their own support, and clarity about how to work together as a family in addressing the impact of mental health conditions on family members.
To get educated about mood disorders, we recommend visiting familyaware.org and other reliable mental health websites. (Several are listed in the notes below.)
Families for Depression Awareness (FFDA) developed the Action Plan template as a way to get family and friends organized and unified to take steps to help a person struggling with a mood disorder. When a person with depression or bipolar disorder seems to be overwhelmed or is not getting appropriate – or any – treatment, family caregivers have an important role to play in helping them to get care.
As a family caregiver, your role is to support and, in some cases, advocate for your loved one. Your support matters as they manage day-to-day struggles related to their mood disorder. You may have to advocate for them so that they can get the services they need to get well.
Family members and friends can help with diagnosis and treatment by, for example,
- Finding a mental health provider and making an appointment
- Sharing your observations and family mental health history with the provider
- Discussing treatment options
- Reporting prior experiences with treatments, medications and dosages, and side effects
- Monitoring for positive and negative effects of treatment.
When your loved one is at an impasse, you can help them to move forward. If they are in a mental state to participate, we encourage you to work with and support them in decision-making. They may not be feeling well enough to accomplish tasks such as identifying a mental health provider or calling to see if the provider accepts their insurance, but they might be able to articulate their preferences about a new provider.
Ideally, you will be able to bring others on board to help accomplish tasks. Perhaps you need someone to drive carpool while you fill out insurance paperwork. Someone else might be able to split the list of potential providers with you and help make calls. Another person can drive your loved one to some of their appointments.
Too often, caregivers struggle silently alongside their loved ones, afraid or embarrassed to admit they need help. The Action Plan helps families to organize, prioritize, and delegate tasks to accomplish goals. The first step is to assemble people who not only have an interest in the person of concern’s wellbeing, but are also willing and able to help.
Our approach starts with articulating the most pressing issues to be addressed first, narrowing the list down to one or two. The process then turns to brainstorming about possible ways to solve the problem, the result of which is a list of action steps that are realistic and time-bounded. Finally, we advise that families assign task ownership to ensure that the plan moves forward and no one person bears responsibility for everything.
If you are concerned about a family member or close friend’s wellbeing, download the Action Plan template and get started!
What do you think?
- What kinds of issues in your life might the Action Plan be useful for?
- What kinds of problem-solving strategies have you previously used to support your loved ones with mood disorders?
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For more information about mood disorders, visit
- Families for Depression Awareness
- National Institutes for Mental Health
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Psychological Association
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Valerie Cordero, Ph.D., is Co-Executive Director of Families for Depression Awareness, the premier organization educating, supporting, and advocating for family caregivers of people living with depression or bipolar disorder. She has been with the organization since 2010 and works out of FFDA’s Nashville office.
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