It can be extremely difficult, and sometimes frustrating, to see a friend or family member struggling with mental illness.Though family and friends of those with mental illness may not have or understand ways they can positively impact that person’s well being, there are still action steps that can be taken to remain supportive. Even the little things that you do can make a large impact on their thoughts and lifestyle.
Educate yourself on mental health problems
In order to be of most help to your friend or family member, it is important to know what you are working with.There are several mental disorders that effect the mental health population. The signs and symptoms of say, depression or anxiety, can be quite different from each other.
One does not need to be an expert on diagnosing individuals, but it will be helpful to know what signs to look for when speaking or interacting with this person so that you can optimize your support.
One way to educate yourself is doing simple research.There are several online websites that can give you a general idea of symptoms from a variety of disorders. Although it is important to take stock of the credibility of your source.There are some very good books out there which can help you to educate yourself on mental health. We also have an article “Understanding Mental Health” which may be of some help.
If a friend or family member already knows their symptoms or is being treated for a disorder, they may already be seeking treatment to help cope. A simple visit with them to the mental health provider can help educate you on how to help.
One of the first questions a mental health provider will ask in a mental health assessment is, what supports are currently available to that applicant. In doing so, a mental health provider would be thrilled to include you in sessions in order for you to be a good support system for their client, which is one of the key ingredients to help them remain stable.
You need to be supportive
To reiterate, it is imperative that you show your friend or family member support. If you know that they have been struggling or just not quite their normal self, ask them what they feel may be going on, or if they have ever considered their behavior to be symptoms of a mental disorder. They may want to disclose their personal information, or they may be withdrawn. But showing a supportive and caring nature, enough to ask, can let them know that they can come to you with some of the difficulties that they are experiencing.
Are there healthy things to do that can help?
Asking how you can help that person with their struggles can also be supportive. Lending a hand to a person with mental illness can be something as simple as helping them prioritize their errands for the day. In the case of someone in a manic phase of bipolar disorder, helping them spend their money conservatively when you accompany them shopping or to dinner. Attending a gym with each other would be a great way to lift the energy and spirits of someone suffering from depression. If the gym isn’t there scene, then there are plenty of other ways to exercise which doesn’t involve the gym.
Take a look at our exercise at home article for some ideas. Also helping a loved one get a more regular sleeping pattern and developing a tracking method for their medications are two examples of helping them live a healthy lifestyle.
Don’t be pushy or judgemental
We have talked about several ways to remain supportive to your loved one, but what if they do not receive your support with the best of intentions. What if your delivery method of support is not conducive to mental health care at all. It is important that you veer from ‘quick fix’ comments such as ‘cheer up’, ‘I’m sure it’ll pass’ and ‘pull yourself together’. In fact, for someone suffering with thoughts of suicide, these statements are the last thing they would want them to hear coming from you as a loved one.
It is important to remain open-minded and use open-ended discussion when speaking to them. Knowing that you may not find an immediate solution for what they may be going through. Listening rather than talking to your friend or family member can take a load off their shoulders. If your loved one is still deflecting your attempts to support, maybe you can help them find another friend or family member, or counselling professional that they may feel more comfortable talking to.
Sometimes your friend or family member may not want to talk about their problems at all. They may want to hear about your struggles, in order for them to relate to what they are going through at the same time. This can be helpful in a variety of ways, not only can this take their mind off of their current situation, but it can also help reduce their negative self-talk that can ultimately lead to stronger mental health symptoms. Talking and participating in the frequent activities that you have both done together in the past can make a world of difference in ‘taking their mind off’.
Show trust and respect
Trust and respect between you and your friend or family member are very important – they help to rebuild and maintain a sense of self-esteem, which a mental health problem can seriously damage. You want to foster a good relationship with your loved one centered around the struggles that they may be facing. It is important that you provide an air of trust with your friend or family member that you will not, under any circumstances, violate or disclose to another. Unless their disclosures are thoughts of self-harm or harming others, speaking of your loved ones struggles to another person may prove detrimental, or ultimately end relationships.
Some mental disorders are perceived as shameful or embarrassing to those that struggle with mental illness, so letting you in on their private issues may have been a big step for them. The last thing that you would want to do is jeopardize this trust between the two of you.
“A Strong Relationship Could Be Key To Helping Your Loved One With Their Mental Illness.”
Helping a loved one with their personal life struggles can be stressful on yourself and in some cases exhausting. As previously mentioned, if there is another friend or family member of your loved one that they feel supported by, encourage them to pull this person in as a support system. This will alleviate any unwanted stress or fatigue in your own life. Try not to tackle this struggle on your own as much as possible. Suggest that they visit their primary care physician if they are not doing so already. It would not prove fruitful for you to exhaust or stress yourself to the point where you could no longer offer the help and assistance that you had in the beginning.
Take time to engage in an activity that helps you maintain and feel refreshed. Go for a walk alone or with another friend or loved one. Speak of your care and support to your struggling friend, keeping strict confidentiality of course. Do something that you love, or that relaxes you.
If your friend or relative has been given a needs assessment from a mental health provider, you may be entitled to have your needs as a carer assessed and taken into account. Mind, provides a booklet on action steps helpful in a carer coping with supporting a loved one with mental illness. You can also visit Carers UK for more information.
We have created a mental health series targeting the 6 areas of health shown in our wheel of well-being. We hope the articles in this series can be of some help to people who are dealing with mental health or effected by a family member or friend with mental health issues. Please feel free to comment at the bottom of the page if you’re after any support or guidance on mental health. You could also contact us using the link at the bottom of the page.