How to Support a Loved One With Mental Illness

Published January 15th, 2022 - 01:22 GMT
How to Support a Loved One With Mental Illness
Ultimately, recognizing that mental illness is serious and understanding how to help others can be challenging for some, but it is necessary to help others keep pushing through. (shutterstock)

Mental illness is becoming more prevalent than ever before as it continues to affect millions of people across the globe. As of 2017, around 970M people suffer from a form of mental illness or substance abuse worldwide. These numbers are not good indicators to where the world is heading in terms of mental wellbeing, and therefore, more should be done to help those in need. 

While no one can deny that the level of awareness and knowledge around mental illness has increased over the past years, we all still have a long road to walk. Global organizations and professionals have been actively working towards creating better and more accessible practices to preserve the mental wellbeing of people. However, an important missing puzzle piece that many seem to overlook is the pivotal role that family and friends play in supporting a loved one suffering from a mental illness.

We all usually want the support and love of those closest to us, and that is precisely why being supported by family and friends can be a great way to help those with a mental illness. In fact, research shows that when someone with a mental illness receives positive support from family and friends, they are more likely to seek professional help when necessary. In addition, some respondents highlighted how family support felt warm, safe and gave them a sense of reassurance. 

But knowing the right way to show support is not an easy task. Because by acting as the support system of someone, you are also putting a tremendous amount of responsibility on yourself. For this reason, it is instrumental to shed light on healthy ways you can provide your support that can be beneficial for you and the person in need. 

- Educate yourself

Learning about mental health conditions and everything it entails will help you know how to act and slightly understand what your loved one is going through. By educating yourself, you are also getting familiar with potential signs and symptoms that can tell you when they need help. It will also indirectly tell them that you are trying to understand and that you are willing to put in the work. 

- Help out whenever you can

Simple tasks like making an appointment or cleaning the house might seem impossible sometimes for those with a mental illness. It is during these times that you can step in and offer a helping hand. This way they can feel supported and less alone. 

- Try to understand and offer emotional support

Sometimes it can be difficult to understand or comprehend what a person is going through. And it is in these times that trying to understand and support those in need goes a long way. Being supportive, understanding and patient can help them feel better and heard. 

- Validate their feelings

One thing that many people fall for is trying to minimize someone’s struggle to make them feel better. But in reality these ways usually backfire. A person with a mental illness does not want you to tell them that it is not a big deal, instead they want to know that their feelings are valid and someone understands and sees their pain. They do not want to be judged or have someone make them feel more ashamed. Make sure that you are not only listening, but you are also being understanding and empathetic. 

- Help them lead a healthy lifestyle 

Leading a healthy lifestyle has significant effects on a person’s mental wellbeing. Eating healthy food, working out and sleeping well can greatly help ease the symptoms of mental illness. By holding your loved ones hand and helping them navigate a healthy lifestyle you are helping more than you can imagine. 

- Ask them what they need/want

Contrary to what so many believe, sometimes asking a straightforward question can help more than one can imagine. Support looks different for everyone, and asking how you can best support them can make things much easier for everyone. 

- Do not forget to take care of yourself

You know what they say, “you cannot pour from an empty cup”. You need to always remember that you need emotional support yourself. Therefore, it is important to be aware when things get overwhelming and hard so that you can take a step back. This does not make you selfish, but instead it means you are able to understand that you will not be able to support your loved ones if you are not able to support yourself first. 

Ultimately, recognizing that mental illness is serious and understanding how to help others can be challenging for some, but it is necessary to help others keep pushing through. It is also instrumental to watch out to the words we say and make sure not to enforce toxic positivity on them. Try to avoid saying phrases “You should..”, and instead opt for more genuine and caring phrases that show you are here to support, love and accept them for who they are.

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