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Stages of change for family members affected by mental health, alcohol or other drug problems

Across time I have learnt that there are lots of similarities between family members affected by mental health, alcohol or other drug problems ('the problem'). And then there are lots of differences. But staying with what's the same for now... We are all unique people with our own ways of coping (or not) when faced with complex and challenging problems. In my experience, at the beginning stage of facing the problem family members can feel curious, confused and don't understand what is going on. They ask questions like 'is this normal?' or 'am I over-reacting?' Family members can become suspicious or fearful that there might be a big problem in the house. They can go from thinking 'this is normal' to 'I'm worried' to 'this is too much'. And they come to realise that 'yes' there is a problem. Feeling angry, desperate, frustrated and worried is also common. Family members might then reach a point of resignation and acceptance of 'the problem' while still feeling upset, angry, confused and worried. They might start out talking to each other about the problem and this can be helpful but only up to a point - because everyone has a different idea about what is helpful and judgements can be made.

Sometimes (although often not and usually quite late in the story) family members reach out for professional help. Reaching out for help might happen in the early stages of feeling confused, angry or desperate. But it is not uncommon for family members to move away from the idea of reaching out and getting help. This is because if feels as if not much change is happening quickly or because they have not connected with the person they sought help from. These patterns of behaviour are what make family members affected by the problem the same or at least similar. Reaching out for professional help at any stage is really important so that mental health, alcohol or other drug problems don't keep growing. It is also important for family members to get additional support from people who are not family members as they are not personally affected by the problem. And if family members find that it doesn't work for them or connecting with the health professional just doesn't happen then it's important to shop around and find someone else who can provide support, information and guidance about how best to take charge of the problem. But remember that this is not an easy problem to solve because if it was we would have solved it by now. And from personal experience I know that there are no quick fixes. But what I also know is that more support makes the load lighter.

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