Supporting a loved one who is dealing with mental illness can sometimes feel like navigating uncharted territory.
As each experience is unique and deeply personal, there’s no one-size-fits-all manual.
Still, there are certain key principles and effective strategies that can guide us in our efforts to provide meaningful support.
This discussion aims to provide practical advice that you can apply in your journey of giving the empathy, understanding, and assistance your loved one needs.
While this guide is not exhaustive, nor applicable to all, it is a stepping stone towards fostering a perception of mental illness that is compassionate, proactive, and hopeful.
1. Understand the Illness
One key to providing effective support is for you to learn more about the condition your loved one has.
Researching their diagnosis can equip you with knowledge that will help you understand their experience better, so you’ll be in a better position to provide tangible assistance and resources.
If you’re not familiar with mental illness, you can try searching for more information here.
2. Validate Their Emotions
Let your friend know that you understand the magnitude of what they’re going through.
It can be tough to open up about mental health issues, so let them know that it’s okay to feel the way they do.
Don’t try to trivialize or brush away their feelings; instead, provide a safe space where they can talk freely without fear of judgment.
3. Listen Without Giving Unsolicited Advice
When your loved one is struggling, it’s natural to want to provide solutions. However, it’s important to remember that sometimes all they need is a listening ear.
They might not always be looking for tips or advice, so try to offer compassion and understanding rather than jumping straight into problem-solving mode.
4. Be Patient
It’s easy to become frustrated when your loved one doesn’t respond well to solutions you think should work, or when they relapse into old habits and behaviors.
Always remember that it takes time for treatment plans to be effective and that recovery is a process with its own set of highs and lows.
Show patience and understanding so that your loved one doesn’t feel like they have to constantly prove themselves to you.
5. Encourage Self Care
Sometimes, mental illness can make it difficult for your friend or family member to take care of themselves, even if they know it’s important.
You can help them develop healthy habits by encouraging activities such as light exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, and relaxation techniques.
6. Provide Access to Resources
In addition to the above tips, it’s important that you provide your loved one with access to resources such as mental health professionals and support groups.
This is especially important if their condition is severe or if they’re having suicidal thoughts.
Do your research to find out what services are available in their area so that you can direct them to the help they need.
7. Take Care of Yourself Too
It’s important to remember that supporting someone with mental illness is not an easy task, and it can take a toll on your own mental and emotional wellbeing.
Be sure to set aside some time to look after yourself too, whether it’s engaging in a hobby, taking a break, or simply talking to a friend.
This will ensure that you stay strong and positive for the person you’re trying to help.
8. Avoid Lecturing
Remember that your loved one is already dealing with a lot of pressure and criticism from within.
Lecturing them or focussing solely on the negative aspects of their condition will only add to this burden.
Instead, be understanding and strive to provide a welcoming environment where they can feel safe in expressing their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment.
This is also applicable to the way they choose to cope with their illnesses.
Whether it’s a traditional medicine or a natural alternative like this, it is an individualist choice that shouldn’t be judged.
9. Give Them Space
When your loved one is struggling, it can be tempting to smother them with attention and affection.
However, giving them too much space can also be unhealthy. The best approach is to strike a balance between providing support while still understanding that they need their personal space.
While it’s helpful to be there for your loved ones and show you care, the last thing you want to do is be overbearing to the point of smothering them.
By doing this, you allow them the room they need while also being there for them through it all.
Supporting a loved one with a mental illness can be both challenging and rewarding.
Always remember that recovery is often an ongoing process, but you can make it more manageable by taking time to understand the illness and doing your best to validate their emotions while making sure to take care of yourself too.
With these tips in mind, you can be a beacon of strength and support for your loved one during difficult times, helping them to navigate their illness and get the help they need to thrive.