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9 Tips for Supporting a Loved One With Mental Illness

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My first experience with depression and anxiety began at 8 years old, and I spent the next 34 years struggling in silence. Although I could have used the support as a child, it wasn’t well received when I finally reached out in my adulthood, which made sense as to why I covered it under the rug in the first place.

When I went into inpatient, most of my family and friends didn’t visit. They didn’t ask how they could help, nor did I receive flowers, a card or a hot meal when I returned home.

Therefore, I want to discuss with friends and family how your support could make all the difference in the world to your loved one.

1. Educate yourself.

Education is so important; therefore, it’s essential to educate yourself on mental health conditions. However, I advise you to please stay away from Google and search for articles from a credible site or source, whether through a doctor or mental health therapist. Often, when we have concrete information in front of us, it can provide the necessary tools to handle circumstances better and finally give a sense of relief, knowing there is an explanation.

2. Therapy and support groups.

If your loved one is willing to attend therapy or a support group, with their acceptance, participate with them.

We are often more apt to listen from an objective perspective, such as through a therapist or a peer living with a mental health condition. Not to mention your loved one might feel safer to disclose their struggles with you in a therapist’s office. Attending a session also shows your loved ones you care and want them to get better and are indeed supported.

You may feel resentment toward your loved ones due to their mental health struggles, but try not to attack them in therapy. To begin with, having you present in their session might cause them anxiety; therefore, you don’t want to lose their trust and no longer be welcome.

3. Signs, symptoms and triggers of mental illness.

When it comes to triggers, are your loved one’s moods set off more quickly? Do they startle easily? Are certain sights, sounds, touches and smells noxious to them? Signs and symptoms may include increased agitation and irritation, restlessness and recklessness and impulsivity.

Other signs and symptoms may include increased or decreased sleeping and rapidly losing or gaining weight. You might notice they are isolating more or no longer attending events that were once of interest.

Is your loved one keeping up with activities of daily living: appearance, showering, brushing their hair and teeth or getting dressed?

A vital sign to look for in your loved one is shifting from a severe depressive state to an unusual serene behavior: Giving away treasured items, writing poignant letters to their loved ones or suddenly completing a will. These may be signs of suicidal behavior.

4. The significance of help.

There may be times or circumstances where your loved one does not appear to want the help. However, more often than not, they yearn for your love and acceptance. They want a hug and a shoulder to cry on and someone who will encourage and believe in them. Helping your loved one might take a considerable amount of energy, but if you can, would you please keep trying?

Some examples are preventing your loved one from isolating in their rooms too much. Don’t leave your loved one behind while you go out with the rest of the family, even if they say they don’t want to go. Of course, you can’t force them to do anything, but your perseverance might show them they are worthy and you are fighting for, rather than giving up on them.

5. Observe your words.

Negative statements such as telling your loved one they are lazy and unmotivated can exacerbate their symptoms. Maybe they can’t get out of bed due to the lack of energy depression can cause. Perhaps they cannot leave the house or seek gainful employment due to extreme anxiety preventing them. Not to mention, chances are your loved one already feels terrible about these things themselves.

6. Struggling with moods.

Your loved one may take certain moods out on you. If you can, try not to take it too personally or see it as a reflection of yourself because we often feel an incredible sense of shame, guilt and regret afterward. Albeit, I am not saying to withstand abuse in any way, whether verbal, physical or emotional.

If your loved one is in the midst of a crisis, they may not be aware of their actions. Therefore, if you fear for your safety in any way, the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved one is to call 911.

7. It isn’t that simple.

Brushing your hair, teeth or taking a shower can seem like second nature. However, for someone struggling with a mental health condition, just the thought of these tasks can be overwhelming. Therefore, praise your loved ones for getting out of bed, washing a spoon and picking their clothes in the corner.

8. We are not making it up.

Many times, people don’t believe we are unwell because they can’t see it. A mental health condition is a physical condition that happens to manifest in the brain. Therefore, just because one can’t see it does not mean it doesn’t exist.

9. Take care of yourself.

It’s essential to practice self-care first, whether through eating a balanced meal, exercise, yoga, time spent with friends or a caregiver’s support group — whatever healthy choice works for you. You want to avoid running on empty and not burn out, as it can affect your moods. Plus, chances are, your loved one will sense it, even if you don’t think you’re presenting as such.

Mental wellness is possible.

My life has completely turned around for the better. I never thought the day I would be publishing mental health articles and presenting at inpatient facilities as an In Our Own Voice presenter through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The best part is my family is back in my life and has been very supportive.

Between proper treatment and a concerted effort, your loved one can survive and thrive just like any individual. It’s often the struggles in our life that cause us to be more resilient. Therefore, don’t give up on your loved one because having these supports in place can make life more manageable for everyone involved.

Getty image  by Rudzhan Nagiev

Originally published: August 20, 2021
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