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6 Ways to Support a Loved One With Mental Illness

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

Mental illness is not something that can be easily defined or understood, especially when someone you care about is struggling and you feel powerless to help. The truth about depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other mental illnesses is that they affect people differently. And sometimes you can pour yourself into people fully, but that still might not be what they need.

If you’re not sure how to support a loved one with mental illness, here are six ways to understand and truly be there.

1. Stop trying to solve their problems.
Caring about someone doesn’t mean solving their problems. And unfortunately, when it comes to mental illness, there’s nothing to “solve.”

A mental illness is something that shapes a person’s everyday life. It’s not something that can be simply “cured.” And as a friend or family member of someone struggling, it’s not your job nor your responsibility to do either of those things. As much as you might be tempted to offer answers, solutions, “ways out” or even words of comfort — you have to understand that the person battling the depression needs to find their own coping mechanisms and strategies for survival.

You can be there, but you can’t be their crutch.

2. Understand that sometimes there are no answers.

Humans want to rationalize — it’s a way of understanding and making sense of things. But mental illness isn’t rational. It doesn’t always make sense. And the way in which it challenges and changes people doesn’t always have an explanation.

That’s why if you really want to support a loved one with mental illness, you have to stop questioning the “why” and “how” and start accepting people for who and where they are.

3. Know that you can’t fix (and shouldn’t) and that’s OK.

You can’t fix someone. And someone with mental illness isn’t broken. Someone who’s struggling with depression, for example, might have a tainted view of the world and react to situations and circumstances differently, but that doesn’t mean it’s your job to heal them or “make them whole.”

Having a mental illness doesn’t make that person any less. Stop trying to fix them and start loving them without restrictions, expectations, or judgements.

4. Show up.

When you say you’ll be there, be there. When you make a promise, follow through. When you offer to do something, do it. Showing up is one of the most important and valuable things you can do for someone who’s battling a mental illness.

Knowing that you’re in their corner is the greatest support of all.

5. Learn to listen with a quiet mouth.

Sometimes people just need a listening ear, one that doesn’t come with advice (no matter how well-meaning it may appear). Sometimes it’s about pouring their heart out and knowing someone cares enough to listen.

6. Realize that your presence is enough.

There is no manual for how to properly support a loved one with mental illness, but as long as you’re actively being there for them, actively making your presence known in their lives, and actively letting them know that you love them —no matter what— then that’s all you can do.

Know that mental illness doesn’t have to define or dictate you and your loved one’s relationship. It is a part of that person, yes, but it’s not the entirety of them. And it never will be.

To read more of Marisa’s work, visit her website, her blog, or her parenting blog

Photo credit: lolostock/Getty Images

Originally published: July 23, 2019
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