How to Support a Loved One with Mental Health Struggles
World Mental Health Day is coming up on Monday October 10th. Pioneered by the World Health Organization and supported by mental health professionals, charities, and campaigners globally, World Mental Health Day aims to raise awareness and mobilize support in aid of better mental health for everyone.
Mental health challenges are extremely common. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 American adults experience some form of mental health issue, with 1 in 20 experiencing a serious mental illness. 17% of young people (aged 6-17 years) will also experience a mental health disorder.
This means it is very likely that you, or someone you love, will suffer from poor mental health at some point in your life. If you see a friend, family member or partner suffering, it can be hard to know what to do. That’s why we’ve put together a few pointers to help you support your loved one.
One of the hardest aspects of living with any kind of mental illness is the social stigma. Because mental health conditions are still highly stigmatized, people can find it difficult to open up. Many of us carry unconscious biases, which can have a negative impact on loved ones who suffer from these conditions.
Therefore, one of the first and most important steps you can take is to educate yourself. Seek out reputable sources of information on mental health generally, as well as on the particular condition your loved one has (if they have disclosed a specific diagnosis.)
Educating yourself lessens the stigma and makes it easier for your loved one to open up to you. It also means that you are better placed to offer support in useful ways.
Listen Without Judgment
When someone we love is in pain, the temptation can be to jump straight in and try to fix the issue. However, mental health issues often do not have an easy fix, and trying can do more harm than good.
Instead, be a safe and non-judgmental person for your friend, family member or partner to lean on. Offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, validate and empathize with their feelings, and resist the temptation to offer advice unless they ask for it.
Help with Practical Things
Mental health issues are physically exhausting as well as emotionally taxing, and a person who is struggling with a mental illness may feel overwhelmed by the everyday tasks of life. For a severely mentally unwell person, even tasks such as doing the dishes, preparing food, or taking a shower can seem like insurmountable hurdles.
If you are willing and able to do so, offering to help with practical things can take a huge weight off their mind. Can you cook them a healthy meal, babysit their children, help with their laundry, or even just tidy up their living space? If so, this is a wonderful way to show you care.
Offer Fun and Distractions
Contrary to popular belief, people with mental health issues are still able to have fun, participate in activities, and enjoy life. In fact, staying involved with things they enjoy can be a great tool in managing their condition.
So don’t be afraid to invite your loved one to spend time together or do an activity with you. Depending on their interests and energy levels, this could be anything from catching up over coffee or seeing a movie to taking a walk or going out dancing. Take your cues from them.
Many people with mental health issues feel abandoned by friends and loved ones, or feel as though their illness has taken over their relationships. Offering fun and normality can help them to feel more like themselves.
Help Them to Find Resources and Professional Support
Friends and family members can be a wonderful support system. But for people suffering from mental illness, professional help is also vital. Your loved one may be resistant to seeking professional support initially, so be patient and don’t force the issue.
Finding the right resources can also feel overwhelming. You might be able to help your loved one by researching appropriate professionals and services in their area, sitting with them while they make their first call to those services, giving them rides or accompanying them to appointments, or simply reminding them that there is no shame in seeking help.
Most Importantly, Ask
Everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for everyone. The person who knows what your loved one needs is them, so resist the temptation to make assumptions and ask instead.
If in doubt, start with this: “I love you and I’m here for you. How can I best support you right now?”
Such a necessary skill! Thank you!