Supporting a Loved One with Mental Illness: Practical Tips and Resources
There isn’t one perfect way to support a loved one with mental illness. How you care for someone will depend on you and the person you support. Mental illness can affect all aspects of a person, from mood to behavior. It can come as a shock when a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness. But remember that many people with mental illness can live a rewarding and fulfilling life with the right treatment. In this article, we talk about practical steps you can take to support a friend or family member with mental illness.
The Importance Of Mental Illness Support And Awareness
Every year, 43.8 million people experience mental illness, with 1 in 25 adults in America living with serious mental illness.
When caring for someone with mental illness, keep in mind that a support system can offer significant positive effects for an individual. No doubt there will be tough days, but perseverance and patience are essential.
Studies have investigated the effects of social support and mental health. Social support can improve the ability to cope with stress, relieve emotional distress, and promote mental health.
Whether someone is recently diagnosed or in recovery, having a solid support system in place of people you like and trust is important. A support system can be friends, family, neighbors, or anyone you feel comfortable enough opening up to.
How To Support A Loved One With Mental Illness
- Educate Yourself About Mental Illnesses And Their Symptoms
When you’re learning about mental illness support, increasing your knowledge about their specific diagnosis is a good place to start. Symptoms of mental illness can vary depending on the condition but can include:
- Mood changes
- Problems performing at work or school
- Change in sleep patterns
- Excessive worry or guilt
- Feeling down or sad
Mental health education is crucial in supporting someone else as it will give you a foundation of understanding. It’s normal to feel disbelief, shock, or even denial if a loved one receives a mental illness diagnosis. But remain open-minded and learn about the illness to help you feel more confident in caring for a loved one.
Here are some good resources for learning about mental health conditions:
As you increase your understanding of the condition, you can start to notice symptoms and be able to identify triggers or times when the condition is not under control.
- Be Empathetic Toward Your Loved One’s Challenges
It’s important to have trust and respect between yourself and the person you’re caring for. Showing empathy and validating their feelings and experiences are part of this. It’s no secret that caring for someone with a mental illness can feel challenging and frustrating. Someone with mental illness can exhibit complex behavior that’s hard to deal with, creating stress and tension in the relationship.
Let the other person lead on how much or how little they wish to talk about. Come to the conversation without judgment. Just knowing that you’re there to help and listen is beneficial.
- Encourage Professional Help And Assist In Finding Treatment Options
While you don’t want to force someone to get help if they are not ready, you can offer practical assistance for finding treatment. Perhaps someone is ready to ask for help, but the thought of finding a therapist or psychiatrist is overwhelming. Try not to take control; instead, help with finding information or seeking professional help. This could include booking an appointment with a therapist or finding therapist options before letting your loved one make the final decision.
- Create A Supportive Environment At Home For Daily Activities
Caring for a loved one at home with a mental illness can look different depending on the situation. The daily function of someone in the grips of a depressive episode is low. They may struggle to do the simplest of self-care tasks. Creating a safe space at home can help encourage independence.
If you’re not sure what to do, ask someone how you can help. Encourage the person you care for to be independent and perform activities by themselves. Whether you live with someone or not, there are things you can do. Help declutter, keep the home organized, and create a comforting space.
- Social Support Networks: Connecting With Others Who Can Relate And Understand
Lastly, don’t forget about yourself. To look after someone else, you have to be on top of your health and well-being. Social support isn’t just important for someone with a mental illness but for the person offering help. It’s a good idea to connect with others who have similar experiences you can relate to.
Try to remain positive, but also understand there’s only so much you can do, and you’re trying your best. Don’t be harsh on yourself. Set yourself boundaries and talk about how much you are willing to do. Give yourself time to relax when you need it. Look after your emotional and physical health, and remember that nothing is your fault. Mental illness can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, and economic background.
In case of emergency, have a crisis plan in place, ideally, before anything happens. A crisis plan would include emergency contacts, symptoms or signs that someone may be in crisis, and what to do if it happens.
Mental Health Resources and Education
When supporting a loved one with a mental illness, you could encounter challenging behavior, including substance use, aggressiveness, and refusal to take medication. If a person has complex mental health needs, speaking with their mental health professional for advice is a good idea. Mental health professionals will specialize and have experience dealing with mental health illnesses.
Finding mental health resources you can trust is vital for learning, locating support groups, and reading through mental health tips. Some great sources to bookmark are:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – you can find information specifically for family and caregivers.
- NAMI Family-to-Family – free 8-session program from NAMI for friends, family, and significant others of people with mental illness.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – find health care and support, information, and learn about treatment options.
These are good resources for general information and diving deeper into specific mental health conditions. You can also search for location-specific services and hone down options for local support.
For example, New Yorkers can visit the New York State Office of Mental Health site, which features mental health resources and NYC crisis hotlines.
Mental Health Support, Recovery, And Well-Being
When someone you love is struggling with their mental health, there are things you can do to offer your support. With the right help and treatment, people can begin the road to recovery. The truth is that recovery from mental illness takes time, and it’s not usually straightforward. There will be highs, lows, wins, and setbacks. Even when it feels like you’re doing nothing, you are helping. Your support does make a difference, even if a loved one doesn’t have the capacity to tell you.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health problems, the therapists and psychiatrists at Thriving Center of Psychology can help. We provide therapy and psychiatry services to patients throughout New York and California, with more locations coming soon.