How Can I Support My Loved One When They’re Suffering From Mental Illness?
Over the last several years, tremendous efforts have been made to increase the public’s general awareness of mental health and its impacts on functioning. Overall, these campaigns have been successful and seeking mental health support is becoming increasingly accepted and encouraged in nearly all areas of society.
However, what is often not discussed is how family members and friends can support their loved ones experiencing mental health concerns and crises. Unfortunately, family and friends are often left feeling helpless and isolated in terms of supporting their loved ones through mental health illness.
The research in this area can sometimes be lacking, but there are several areas in which researchers and providers agree in terms of providing support as a loved one manages their mental health.
The first step in supporting a loved one as they manage mental illness is to learn about your loved one’s diagnosis (NAMI, 2021). By educating yourself about your loved one’s diagnosis, you can better recognize symptoms requiring immediate professional support and intervention. Additionally, educating oneself about mental illness and their loved one’s diagnosis allows one to understand and recognize circumstances that may contribute to worsening symptoms for their loved one (Glynn & Pickett, 2019).
NAMI (2021) also notes that it is important to work toward accepting that your loved one does suffer from mental health concerns and illness. Specifically, failure to accept what our loved one is dealing with prevents us from fully understanding and supporting our loved ones.
Waldron (2023) also discusses the importance of taking the time to really listen to and understand what your loved one is experiencing and what they need. In their article, Waldron (2023) suggests using LEAP (listen, empathize, agree, and partner with your loved one) to assist in helping your loved one to feel heard and supported in their mental health journey. It is also incredibly important to frequently verbally express your support to your loved one throughout their mental health journey (NAMI, 2021).
Similarly, NAMI (2021) recommends that family and friends take an interest in their loved one’s treatment plans and goals so that they can best support their loved one moving forward. Furthermore, being involved with your loved one’s treatments will better encourage them to participate and attend their appointments.
Additionally, involvement with your loved one’s treatment plan, partnered with education about their diagnosis, assists in crisis preparation. Specifically, holding an understanding of your loved one’s diagnosis and symptoms allows you to better understand the ebbs and flows of mental illness. Furthermore, partnering in your loved one’s care enables you to assist in planning and preparation for a mental health crisis (NAMI, 2021).
Most importantly, experts in the field agree that caregivers and support for those suffering from mental illness take care of themselves first. This likely includes seeking professional therapy for yourself outside of the professional support your loved one is receiving. It is vitally important to understand and remember that it is both normal and healthy to experience a wide range of emotions associated with your loved one’s mental health and associated with struggles (Glynn & Pickett, 2019).
Supporting a loved one who is experiencing mental health concerns is often a difficult and lonely journey. However, there are many things that you can do to help support your loved one through this difficult journey. However, it is vitally important to take care of yourself first before you can fully support your loved one.
About the Author
Dr. Montes is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center in Chesapeake, VA.
Glynn, S., Kangas, K., & Pickett, S. (2019, August 27). Supporting a family member with serious mental illness. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/mental-health/support-serious-mental-illness
Mental Health America. (2023, June 2). How can I help a loved one with a mental illness?. Mental Health America. https://screening.mhanational.org/content/how-can-i-help-loved-one-mental-illness/
NAMI: California. (2021, May 7). Helping support someone with a mental health condition: Guide for families and friends. Helping Support Someone with a Mental Health Condition: Guide for Families and Friends. https://namica.org/blog/guide-for-families-and-caregivers/
Waldron, I. (2020, January 14). Strategies for helping mentally ill loved ones: Nami main line pa. NAMI MAIN LINE PA | National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://namimainlinepa.org/strategies-for-helping-mentally-ill-loved-ones/
Waldron, I. (2023, May 5). Communicating with a loved one who has a mental illness: Nami main line pa. NAMI MAIN LINE PA | National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://namimainlinepa.org/communicating-with-a-loved-one-who-has-a-mental-illness/