Add To Favorites

Getting Organized: Helpful Hints for Families

By: the Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities Center

There are many government and private services that can help people who have mental illness. You may have to make many phone calls to find the right services for you or your family member. Some agencies have specific eligibility criteria that you must meet to receive their services.

To make it easier for you to get the services you need, we have compiled some ideas that other family members have found useful:

  • Keep a file. Include copies of all letters you write, any letters you receive, test or assessment reports, your own notes. When you go to meetings, write down the date, who you met with, and what happened ("1/3/90—Met with Dr. Jesse to talk about side effects of medication. Will change dosage.") When you call agencies, write down the date of your call, who you talked to, and what the call was about ("8/16/94—Called Corey Martinez at Rehabilitation to ask about services, will send application.").
  • Keep a copy of any document that you sign, such as an application for service, a treatment or service plan, etc. Do not sign anything you don’t understand. If you don’t agree with something written in the document, you don’t have to sign it. People must explain to you what will happen if you do not sign the document.
  • Keep a written record of the names of any medications that are being taken, the dosages, and when they’re taken. Keep one copy of your medication record at home and keep another copy in your wallet or purse in case of an emergency. You can ask your doctor if you should get a Medic Alert bracelet.
  • Some people find it helpful to jot notes on a calendar, such as brief phone call or meeting notes, when a medication was changed or started, good days/bad days, or any atypical behaviors or occurrences. Keep the calendar for several years as your record of events.
  • When you call an agency to get services, it’s helpful if you know your family member’s mental health diagnosis, or suspected diagnosis.

If your family member has a developmental disability in addition to a mental health disability, some mental health agencies may tell you that your family member is not eligible for their services. if the agency that you are trying to get services from tells you that your family member is not eligible for their services due to his or her developmental disability, let the agency know if your family member is "a danger to him- or herself or others." This is the wording used in law to identify who should receive mental health services. it is discriminatory for your family member to be denied mental health services simply because he or she also has a developmental disability.

  • When you go to a meeting about your family member with mental illness, know what the purpose of the meeting is. If someone else set up the meeting, find out why the meeting was set up and who else will be there. If you requested that the meeting be set up, write down what you want to accomplish at the meeting. For example, there may be specific information you need, a service you want, or information that you want others to be aware of. Make good use of your time. Write down your goals for the meeting, and be persistent to make sure your points are covered and you get answers to your questions.
  • If you do not understand something that is said, either at a meeting or over the telephone, ask for clarification. A lot of acronyms and jargon are used in all fields and professions. Make sure you understand what is being talked about. You can ask for a list of acronyms or commonly used terms.

There is an internet site that lists more than 100 commonly used health and disability acronyms. You can find it at:

  • If you have other children or family members you provide care for, you should have a plan ready in case your family member with mental illness has a crisis that you must attend to. Check with family, friends, or neighbors in advance to find someone who can watch your other children, pick them up from school, etc. in case you must deal with a mental health crisis.

"Helpful Hints for Families," a chapter in Living with Mental Health Issues and Mental Illness: Resources, Rights, and Supports for People Who Have Mental Health Issues, Their Families, and Caregivers (2nd edition, 1997), appears with permission of Area 4 Board, 236 Georgia Street, #29, Vallejo, California.

Copyright Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities Center