Millions of people with mental health issues lead happy, productive, and extremely normal lives. Many people with mental health conditions never tell their loved ones, and their behavior may be no different from people without mental health conditions. Indeed, more than 25% of Americans receive a mental health diagnosis at least once. But this doesn’t mean that living with a mental health challenge is easy, and friends and family can be frustrated when their attempts at helping fail. If someone you love struggles with mental health challenges, there are many ways you can help.
Learn about Mental Health
Mental health conditions can be confusing, particularly to bystanders. Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s condition. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is an excellent resource for friends and family. You may also be able to find a local support group in which you can learn about better ways to help your loved one cope.
Avoid Stigmatizing Mental Health
Mental health conditions are no different from other health conditions. Your loved one didn’t choose to struggle with mental health issues, and he or she can’t will the condition away. Don’t make someone you love feel ashamed of a mental health challenge. Instead, encourage him or her to talk openly about the issue as you listen without judgment.
Listen and Learn
People are not disorders or symptoms. They’re unique individuals, and your loved one might not experience all of the symptoms your research tells you he or she will. Don’t just rely on books or Internet articles for information. Listen to your loved one’s lived experiences, and ask about how you can help.
Mental health conditions don’t typically go away on their own, and your loved one deserves excellent help. GoodTherapy.org can help you find a therapist who specializes in your loved one’s specific issue. If the person you love is anxious about seeking help, offer to make the first call for them or even to go with them to the first therapy session.
Offer Meaningful Support
It’s nice to say you care and want to help, but it’s even better to offer specific, tangible assistance. If your friend is overwhelmed at work, consider picking up the kids from school. If your sibling has trouble focusing on daily tasks, offer to help by mowing the lawn or weeding the garden. When you reduce the stress of everyday life, you make it easier for your loved one to concentrate on recovery.
Take Symptoms Seriously
Mental health issues can color the way you see the world, and no amount of arguing is going to change your loved one’s perceptions. More importantly, though, mental health symptoms are real symptoms. If your friend feels suicidal, angry, or anxious, don’t tell him or her that life’s not that bad. Listen carefully to your loved one’s emotions and take them seriously. Never try to make a loved one feel guilty about his or her feelings.
Give Your Loved One Control
Unless your loved one is in imminent danger, trying to force him or her into treatment removes your loved one’s sense of agency and strength. Encourage your loved one to seek treatment, but don’t attempt to force or manipulate him or her into it. Treatment won’t work until a person is truly ready to receive it.
Offer Unconditional Love
People with mental health conditions frequently worry that they are unlovable, and stereotypes about mental illness can compound this fear. Offer your loved one unconditional love, and reassure him or her that you are and will continue to be available.
Build Upon Strengths
No matter how much your loved one is struggling, he or she has something to offer the world. Help your friend or family member celebrate small victories. For example, if your spouse experiences depression and has trouble getting out of bed, praise him or her for pushing through a challenging day. You might say, “I know it’s so hard to go to work when you feel so sad, and I just wanted to let you know that I am so proud of you for pushing through.” Make sure your praise is genuine and not patronizing.
Keep Your Loved One Safe
Your loved one’s life and safety matters more than anything else. If you are worried that a loved one is in imminent danger, contact a suicide hotline or a mental health professional. People who threaten suicide or violence aren’t just seeking attention. They’re people in imminent distress who need and deserve immediate help.
- Dickens, Rex. (n.d.). 60 Tips for Helping People Who Have Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia.com. Retrieved from http://www.schizophrenia.com/family/60tip.html
- For Friends and Family Members. (n.d.). MentalHealth.gov. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members/index.html
- The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml
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