Supporting a friend or family member through mental illness can be very challenging, particularly for your own mental health. It is important that you continue to look after yourself while caring for someone else and seek help and support if you can.
It can be very difficult to know what to do when someone you love is experiencing a mental health difficulty. The important thing to remember is that the person is experiencing an illness and not to take it personally if they don’t act in their usual way.
Here are some tips on how you can support and loved one:
Ask how they are
Mental illness thrives on loneliness and isolation. Being trapped inside one’s own head with dark or anxious thoughts can be incredibly difficult. Often just having the opportunity to share their feelings will provide relief and comfort to someone who is struggling. The person may not want to talk and that’s ok too, just letting them know you are available can be enough.
Ask how you can help
Often it’s the smallest gestures that can make the biggest impact. Ask if there is anything you can do to help the person. It may be helping out around the home, accompanying them to visit the doctor or going for a walk together. Take their lead and be gently encouraging.
Be careful of language
Feelings of mental illness can be very confusing and distressing, especially if there doesn’t seem to be an obvious cause. Be careful about using phrases like “You’ll get over it”, or “Cheer up” really aren’t helpful. What the person needs is a safe space and someone to listen without judgment. They aren’t looking for you to solve their illness, they may just need to share.
Trust is very important when dealing with someone with a mental health issue. They may already be feeling vulnerable and alone and having someone they feel they can trust can be a great help.
Look after yourself
There is an old saying – “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. This is particularly true when it comes to mental health. Looking after your own wellbeing is just as important as looking after your loved one.
If possible, share your caring role with others. Ask for help when you need it and take some time away for yourself when you can. This will help you to recharge and you will be in a better position to support your loved one. If you need to reach out for professional help, speak to your GP or a local counseling service. Having someone impartial to share your thoughts with can make a big difference.