When a loved one or someone close to you suffer from mental illness, it can certainly cause a chaos like situation, where you feel clueless as to how to react and support the person. It can be very challenging but remaining in denial or disapproval will only worsen the situation. So, it’s important to take effective measures to deal with the situation. Having a support system has been proven to fast track the recovery. It helps in making the person feel less vulnerable, knowing the fact that there are so many individuals who support him/her and are there for him/her. In this article, I’ll be sharing some practical tips to support someone with mental illness.
Talk it out: If your loved one is showing signs of mental health illness or distress, the first thing that you need to do is to talk it out. Try having a conversation with them when both of you are free and in a very relaxed environment. Don’t make them feel pressurized. This conversation will help you understand what’s troubling them and what you can do for them.
While having the conversation, please do keep in mind certain things:
- Don’t try to diagnose them: You are not a counselor or a medical expert. Don’t assume things or don’t come to judgements soon. Try to be accepting and non-judgemental.
- Let them share as little or as much they want to: Let them go at their own pace. Don’t pressurize them to tell you things, they aren’t yet ready to share. Respect their personal space. Talking about sensitive issues takes a lot of trust and courage, which takes time.
- Keep questions open-minded: Try to use neutral language. For example, instead of asking I have been noticing that you are looking low, why is that?, Ask how have you been feeling lately? What are your top 3 thoughts ? Give the person time to answer and try not grilling them with questions.
- Be an active listener: Try to pay attention to the person, don’t jump in with your own opinions/suggestions. Listen mindfully to the person, reflect on what they are telling you, what they are conveying to you.
- Acknowledge them: Remember that having such conversations around mental health us not a easy task, so try to acknowledge the other person. Validate their experiences and feelings. Make them feel understood.
Educate yourself about the mental illness or problem: Read and educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Try reading quality, evidence based information. Inform yourself as much as possible about the mental health issue/condition/illness. Don’t get swayed by the gossips or myths regarding it. If you find yourself too busy and hectic to do that, try contacting a psychiatrist or a psychologist or counselor. Try having an informed conversation with them and clear all your doubts. It’s important that you ask them about the course of illness and regarding the path of recovery, what are the treatment options? How do they work? How can you support them?
Learning about the mental illness/condition would help you understand how it is affecting your loved one.
Educating yourself about their mental health issues will help you to understand them better. And then you will be in a better capacity to offer them support.
Ask them how you can help or support them: Instead of guessing or assuming things it’s better to ask the person what they need? In what way do they require your support? Is it emotional support or some tangible support they require? Do they want you to give them some time and space of they need you to be there for them?
See if the requests made by them are doable. Be honest to them about what you can take on. Overextending yourself will cause problems in the long run.
Asking them directly will help you navigate your options for support. It will also help clear ambiguity regarding your role.
It is also important to remember that even if your actions and love may seem to have little impact, they matter.
Encourage them to seek professional or psychiatrist care: It might be possible that the person show resistance towards seeking professional care. It then becomes your responsibility to encourage and persuade them to seek professional help.
In case they refuse for treatment:
- Ask them how they are feeling
- Ask them why they don’t want to seek professional help
- Explain to them that you are worried about them.
- Explain to them the benefits of seeking counseling or psychotherapy.
- Offer to support them in the treatment process. You may do this by offering to go to an appointment with them.
In case, when a loved one is in acute psychiatric distress (like feeling suicidal or experiencing psychosis) it’s wisest to get them into a hospital.
Take care of yourself: Supporting someone with a mental illness or mental health condition can be both emotionally and physically exhausting. It can drain you emotionally. So it’s important that you be kind and compassionate towards yourself. It is important that you look after yourself and your well-being too. Remember you can’t pour from an empty vessel. Try to have a balanced diet, a good 8 hour sleep, do maintain your hobbies, try doing 30 minutes exercise for atleast 5 days in a week, keep a journal etc. Basically do things that make you feel alive and grateful.
If you still feel stressed out, try seeking counseling for yourself. Taking care of a person having mental illness can be stressful and exhausting, not to mention that it gives rise to a lot conflicting emotions. A counselor may provide with the much needed clarity, objectivity and solutions not previously seen.
You can even join support groups for caretakers/family members of someone suffering from mental illness. Venting out your feelings and knowing that you are not alone but there are others who are also going through the same stuff can be very therapeutic.
Supporting someone with a mental illness is a tedious but rewarding task. It’s a gentle reminder to keep yourself healthy and try avoiding overextending yourself as in the long run that will cause further problems. Don’t try to play the role of savior or fixer, as it might prove to be ineffective. Just be there for the person. Your acceptance to them in invaluable. Try having realistic expectations, as the path towards healing isn’t a straight one. It’s full of zig-zags and ups-downs. A very insightful reading resource is ‘I am not sick. I don’t need help’ by doctor Xavier Amador. This books provides a lot of practical tips regarding how to support someone with mental health issues.