This month’s blog is focused on ways to help loved ones suffering with mental health problems. According to the CDC, around 1 in 5 Americans will experience mental illness each year. Before diving into ways to help, it is important to understand what not to say. There are many phrases that people say trying to be helpful. These programmed sayings, such as, “just try to be positive” can make that person feel worse and alone. When addressing someone, think first. Be aware that they may have different beliefs than yourself. Try to think of it in terms of a physical illness. You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to think happy thoughts instead of giving them insulin. Understand and think before blurting out a phrase that might do more harm than good.
Be a Good Listener
There are actions that can be helpful to someone battling mental illness. One of the biggest things that can be helpful is listening with an open mind. Let them know they are not alone. Tell them that you love and support them. Make sure you are truly listening to what your loved one has to say. Be sure not to judge them for how they are feeling. Just being open and willing to offer support can go a long way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand. Your loved one doesn’t expect you to fully understand what they are going through. Be sure to ask about their symptoms, in a respectful manner. Asking how they feel shows you care because you are taking the time to ask.
While talking and asking questions, encouraging your loved one to seek help is another way to support them. First, it is important to see if they are receiving the care necessary for their illness. If they are not, try offering to help them get the help they need. This is another way to show you want the best for them. They may get angry and refuse to seek help. This is normal although it is important to remind them that mental illness is treatable. Offering to help your loved one with everyday tasks can be helpful as well. Offering to grab the mail or wash a few dishes can show support. These small acts of kindness can help more than you think.
The final thing you can do to support a loved one battling mental illness is to be patient. You may feel as though they have pushed you away. Those suffering tend to distance themselves from others because they feel like a burden. It is important to not pressure them to spend more time with you or talk about their problems. Let them know you are there when they are ready. Do not give up on them even though it may be frustrating.
It is important to understand what is harmful versus what is helpful. The minds of those with mental illness do not work in the same way as the minds of those who do not. It is important to understand that while you may see something as helpful and kind, they do not. Educating yourself on mental illness and using this knowledge to support loved ones is important. This can show them you still care about them. It shows you want to do what you can to help. Keep these tips in mind next time you interact with someone who is fighting a battle you cannot see.