A question that many therapists I know frequently get asked is, "How can I support my_______ (friend, family member, spouse, child, etc.) with their mental health?" While specific support strategies will vary depending on the situation and the concern at hand, there are some general ways to provide them with the love and support that they need during this time. These strategies can be applied whether you simply suspect someone is currently struggling or there is a known diagnosis.
Check them out below!
Ways to Support a Loved One
Watch for Warning Signs
Family and friends are often the first ones to notice that something is wrong. Knowing the warning signs of mental health problems can help your loved one get the help they need quickly, which is an important part of treating mental illness. Review warning signs of mental illness here.
Have a Conversation
A conversation can make a difference in helping someone to feel less alone and more supported in their experiences. Let your loved one know you are concerned. Use "I" statements to focus on your own feelings and beliefs, rather than criticizing or directing the other person. This helps relieve defensiveness. Check out this or this for ideas on how to bring it up.
Take time to learn about mental illnesses so that you can have a better understanding of your loved one's experiences. Educating yourself on the symptoms can also help ensure that you don't take them personally when they present. Find reputable resources and don't believe every horror story you read.
Encourage Outside Support and Know that You Alone Can't Fix it.
We may want to fix our loved ones' problems and be their support system, but the truth is that no one can do this alone. The best thing we can do is help our loved one develop a support system. Suggest they see their family doctor or attend counselling, collaborate with their treatment team, help with medications, appointments, and treatments as necessary, and support the development of a healthy lifestyle. If a loved one is unwilling to seek help, know that this is not your fault - read this article for further guidance.
Ways to Support Yourself
Accept Your own Feelings and Know that You are not Alone
When someone is diagnosed with or showing symptoms of a mental illness, it is normal to feel a mixture of emotions. Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel - anger, compassion, disbelief, anxiety, love, guilt. All of these feelings are understandable and normal. This is a challenging and stressful time.
You can't pour from an empty cup. Take time for yourself. This can help you to recharge and give you a more balanced perspective toward any challenges you experience. Scheduling in time to relax and have fun will only lead to improvements in yourself and your relationship.
Set Appropriate Limits and Develop Coping Strategies for Challenging Behaviour
It is perfectly okay to have limits and boundaries in place for the sake of everyone's wellbeing. You have rights, too and do not have to tolerate dangerous or abusive behaviour. If possible, discuss these boundaries with your loved one and their care team to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Video: When Mental Illness Enters a Family
A TEDx Talk by Dr. Lloyd Sederer titled "When Mental Illness Enters a Family".
If nothing else, remember that mental illnesses are illnesses. They can sometimes change someone's circumstances, their personalities, their interests, and their spirit. However, the person remains the same person you have always loved, and they need you to see that person in them - even if they can't see it in themselves.