Tips and tricks to help your loved one with mental illness.

By DJ Jaffe, Executive Director, Mental Illness Policy Org

Author, Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill

I recently asked Mental Illness Policy Org’s Facebook community, what tips and tricks they have to help their mentally ill loved ones. There were some great responses. Unfortunately some of these tips require some extra money and wouldn’t work for those who don’t have it.

  • I have an account at the local cab company to take her where she needs to go. She is not well enough to use Uber or Lyft on a smart phone, which is another idea. I could use them on my phone, but then I’d have to make the arrangements for each trip.
  • I pay someone to visit once a week to friend her, and take her shopping, out for a walk, to the movies etc. I found the person by advertising on Craigslist but you could also find someone by calling a local college, perhaps one that has a social work program. Figure out an hourly rate.
  •  I give gift certificates to local chain restaurants in lieu of extra cash. That ensures she always has something to eat, and doesn’t risk blowing cash I give her and running out of food.
  •  I send him care packages and things he needs (like new sheets and toiletries) from Amazon and have what he needs delivered to him.
  • I now buy his groceries on line, and then he picks them up or I can have them delivered.
  • I pay his bills & rent on line, to help ease his stress. He accepts all the help happily.
  •  I give gift cards to Wallmart.
  •  I give gift cards to Whole Foods and other places that have good food so he doesn’t eat fast food.
  • Grocery stores had cards you could by in denominations of $1.00, $5.00, and $10.00. These were not redeemable for anything but food.
  • I use Grub Hub to send him dinner every night.
  • I got a TrueLink debit card. This debit card lets you control expenses. You can say where it is allowed and not allowed to be used, and how much you can withdraw each day. You can also prevent cash withdrawals. By using a debit card, rather than cash, you can often prevent them racking up needless ATM fees and have greater control over where they spend money.
  •  I never argue and always reassure her. Stay positive, but empathize with their sadness and paranoia. (“It must feel awful to feel like the FBI put a transmitter in your head”) Listen without judgement.
  •  I don’t try to argue or even comprehend the delusions, just relate to how he must feel having them.
  • I made myself content to listen. My niece calls me 4 times a day basically to describe a random train of thought or minutiae of her day (who said what to who). It used to upset me because when I tried to engage in a conversation she just babbled on. Then I realized she was not calling to talk to me, she was calling to talk at me. It made her comfortable to express the thoughts that were crowding in her brain. So now I just zone out when she calls, let her talk, and just interject reassurances once in a while.
  •  I no longer take it personally he wants to be alone.
  • I gave my loved one’s phone number to relatives and friends who live father away (or even not so far away) and asked them to call or text occasionally. I even asked some if they will even visit once a month and take him for walks or to lunch. I volunteered to reimburse their parking and cost of lunch.
  • Put his or her cell phone on your plan so you can track him if needed.
  • Check with cell phone companies with special cell phone plan for those who are on Medicaid, disabled or elderly.
  • I keep a single notebook with all of his medical paperwork, social security stuff, insurance numbers, medication list, names and phone numbers of doctors so when we have to go to the ER or be admitted to the hospital I can take it with me. Also include a large clear photo in case he ever goes missing, and you need one to give to police or show to stores and people in the area that are helping look for him.
  • I used my smartphone camera to photograph his ID, debit card and Medicaid card whenever they’re replaced and keep them on my phone for future reference.
  • I got a HIPAA release!!!
  •  I taught my son, who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks to calm himself with breathing exercises and visualization. Plus constant love and reassurance of his capacity to overcome based in evidence. (eg: examples of his prior success with coping).
  •  I lay out meds for him in a weekly container and sometimes call to make sure he is taking them.
  •  I buy all of his cigarettes for the month on the 1st so that if he wastes his SSI on soda, etc., he will still have enough cigarettes on hand to last the entire month. If that causes him to go through them too quickly, hand out x number a day.
  • I had his inpatient doc take him on as an outpatient too. We were able to get the psychiatrist at the local short term mental hospital to take on my son as an outpatient. I attend office visits with my loved one so that we can work as a team to keep him out of the hospital and at his most stable. This also works well when he has to go inpatient so that they don’t mess up his meds like what would normally happen when a random psychiatrist treats you. Having same inpatient/outpatient doc is good.
  •  I ask my son for advice. Our son was always into clothes styles and music growing up. So I seek his opinion in these areas; for example, if I am going out (rarely!) I ask his opinion about which top looks better with my pants…I ask for his input about music, for example, “What do you think is one of the best songs by Marvin Gaye?” He likes the fact that he has info I don’t that he is useful to me.
  •  Get a clubhouse program started in your community.
  • Move where there are better services or he will feel comfortable. A mom’s son was frequently picked up for walking around barefoot with no shirt on, so she rented him a room on the beach where that form of dress was acceptable. Some have bought homes near water (which can be comforting).
  • We moved to an area where he can walk to restaurants and stores. Our last residence was too rural, and he couldn’t access Uber, buses, or taxis. He wouldn’t get in one anyway, he doesn’t trust strangers. Big cities would be too much stimulation for him. So an area where he can walk to stores was perfect.
  • Get your son out of the house and into his own space. Rather than having him live in the house with us, which was becoming untenable due to the tension, we moved to a home where he can have his own space with separate entrance. Ours was a home with a carriage house. But other options would be two family homes, homes with an in-law suite or a rentable apartment. Other options include a home with enough land to put a separate trailer or Tiny House on the property so your loved one can have space of his/her own.
  • We put sky lights in his room to force his sleep patterns to be more normal.
  • Pay for motels and food. When my son was homeless out of state in Midwest in the winter I would pay for hotel rooms & order pizza. He was kicked out of shelters due to his alcoholism & psychosis.
  • When my son is homeless not taking his medication I leave clothing, toiletries, snacks at his local hang out spots. We live in a small town. Local coffee shops and restaurants make sure he’s fed.
  • We hang a bag of food and bottled water on the back door of the house in case our family member comes by and we were not home or asleep.
  • We got our son a bright orange vest. My son wanders at night so I got him a bright orange construction vest so he doesn’t get run over.
  •  I started offering hugs a while back, and now he comes to me for a hug at least once a day.
  • Buy a companion dog although you may have to watch over his care. But my son does great with him. It gives him purpose, someone who unconditionally loves him, he’s even lost weight walking him.
  • Love, understanding, reassuring they are good inside and out…. Visits as much as possible.

For more tips go to  To help improve care for the seriously mentally ill, read, Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill by DJ Jaffe.

(c) Mental Illness Policy Org. 2019. Permission is granted to share with credit to Mental Illness Policy Org, DJ Jaffe, Executive Director.