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The Important Thing to Remember If You Love Someone With a Mental Illness

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There are many articles online about how to love someone with a mental illness. I do not want to say those are unimportant; they are very, very important. But something I have not seen in any article is the message that they need to care for themselves as well.

It’s hard to love someone in the middle of the storm. It’s hard to give so much of yourself up for someone who may not appreciate you at the time. It’s hard to know when to stop giving, and it’s even harder to “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (Prov 4:23)

So, today I am here to talk to the children, the best friends, the partners of those with mental illness. From someone who both experiences depression and anxiety and has family and friends with various mental illness, I’m here to say: take care of yourself, too.

You are not supposed to fix them.

You can’t. As I posted on my blog recently, “you don’t ‘cure’ mental illness; you treat it through an everyday, long-term combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, social support and often medication, and everyone’s journey is different as we all have different strides.”

The best thing you can do for them is support. Listen, encourage, drive them to therapy, remind them to practice good self-care. Do not become their doctor. You are their friend, not a medical professional. (Unless you are, in which case I would say keep doing your thing.)

If you’re their child, you are not responsible for their mental health, especially if you’re a minor. Parents take care of kids, young kids shouldn’t have to take care of their parents. It’s OK to step away. It’s OK to tell them you can’t help them. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them; it means you respect yourself.

Your mental health is as important as theirs.

Just because you don’t have a mental illness doesn’t mean your mental health doesn’t matter. You need to practice good self-care as well. You matter too.

I would encourage you to start conversations with others who find themselves in a similar position as you. We are not meant to live life alone. “No man is an island.” Mental health is like physical health; you don’t go to the doctor only when you’re sick, you also get checkups to make sure everything is OK.

Let yourself get help when you need it. Don’t carry their weight on top of yours; that’s too much for anyone. Share your burdens, get help and step back when you need to. It’s like how mothers need to put the oxygen mask on themselves before they put it on their babies in the event of a plane malfunction.

You can’t help someone effectively when you’re helpless. Don’t drown in someone else’s ocean. To rescue someone who is drowning, you need to be buoyant, sure, calm.

But you also need to remember that you’re fallible. You won’t be perfect. Your own strength won’t be enough for both of you. And that’s when I personally turn to God. “I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13)

You matter.

Keep on loving. Keep on being someone’s anchor. And don’t forget to love yourself, too. You are just as important as your loved ones. You are their loved one.

Follow this journey on The Casual Existentialist.

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Thinkstock photo via jacoblund

Originally published: June 8, 2017
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