Watching somebody you love go through any kind of illness is incredibly difficult. It can often be harder to help a loved one battle mental illness and to know what to say or do because it’s difficult to understand what that person is going through. In this guide, we’ll explore some steps you can take to support a friend or family member.
One of the most important and beneficial things you can do for a friend or a relative who is struggling with a mental health disorder is to listen. Many people try to encourage others to talk to them, but they don’t always listen. If you want a loved one to open up to you, make sure that you take the time to listen to everything they say. Let them talk if they feel able to and they want to and give them space to finish what they are saying before you respond or interject. Talking can be daunting, especially if that person feels like what they have to say may upset you or make them feel embarrassed or ashamed. If they feel that they can trust you and they want to talk to you, keep your ears open, don’t pressure them in any way and let them know that you will be there whenever they feel able to speak.
Try to learn more
Many of us find it hard to talk about mental health disorders because we haven’t been through them. We’ve all had headaches, most of us have nursed injuries before and we know what it feels like to experience physical pain or upset after an accident or a nasty bout of the flu. We can sympathize and we have an impression of what the other person is currently battling. With mental health, it’s more difficult to know what to say or how to help because of a lack of experience. You can help a loved one by trying to learn more. Read about conditions and the symptoms they cause using reputable websites and journals, seek expert advice from doctors or therapists you know, use resources provided by nonprofits and ask your loved one about their condition.
Encourage them to seek help
For most people who have symptoms of a mental illness and those going through tough times, the hardest step is the first one. It can be scary to think about making a call or going to an appointment if you think you may have an addiction, you’ve been feeling sad or helpless for a long time, or you’ve been experiencing suicidal thoughts. Try to gently encourage your loved one to seek help, make them understand that they are not alone and underline the fact that people are there to help and support them and not to judge in any way. From drug rehabs and counseling to talking therapies, medication and group support, it is possible to get treatment and to start looking forward to a brighter and more positive future. Let your friend or family member know that you will be there every step of the way. You may find that they feel more confident or comfortable if you go with them to an appointment or a first therapy session, for example.
Be sensitive to the impact of the condition
The way we react to diagnoses and symptoms associated with mental illness can have a major bearing on how people feel around us. If you have a loved one who is going through a difficult time and they have been diagnosed with a mental illness, it’s so important to be sensitive to the impact of that condition. If somebody you know has an anxiety disorder, for example, highlighting the differences between how you feel and how they feel in different scenarios can make them feel worse. If you suggest that being anxious, nervous or uneasy in a specific environment or scenario is ridiculous, for example, this will emphasize the difference between you and them and make them feel even more uneasy. Instead of making comments that could be perceived negatively, ask your friend how they are feeling and try to be understanding. Take steps to make the setting or the situation less frightening or unnerving.
It’s tough to watch a loved one go through any illness, but it can be particularly difficult to know how to help friends and family members with a mental health disorder. If you have a friend or relative who is battling a mental health condition, it’s so important to try to make them feel comfortable and to support them as best you can.