Dealing with mental health issues is never easy – not just for the person experiencing them but for the people close to them as well. You can feel powerless to help them but it’s important to be there for them as a part of a support system. While each person’s situation is different, there are some key things you can do to help your loved one through their mental health issues.
1. Help Them Find Suitable Treatment Options
No matter how close you are to the person, it’s not fair to them nor to you to try and act as their sole support system. Mental health issues are complex and require professional help to treat. Talk with them and see what kind of treatment they’d be comfortable with, and gently offer your advice if they don’t seem to be considering all their options. For some, the best options are mental health facilities that can offer the help they need for acute psychiatric symptoms and help them stabilize and get on the road to recovery. Others may prefer to see a therapist or counselor on a regular basis. You also might want to encourage them to ask a professional about what they think the best treatment option would be for them. Sometimes, even when it seems like a problem can be solved with just a few therapy sessions, there may be an underlying mental health disorder that needs to be treated with medication.
2. Listen Intently
Opening up about mental health issues is hard. There’s still a social stigma surrounding mental health, so your loved one may be worried about how you’ll react or what you’ll think of them. Additionally, some conditions make it extra difficult to reach out for help. When your loved one comes to you for support, it’s important to just listen and not judge. Show them that you’re there for them and willing to talk about whatever they need to. Avoid giving advice unless they ask for it, as this can make them feel like you’re not really listening to them or trying to understand their experience. If you do offer advice, try to steer clear of seemingly simple solutions such as “try to change your mindset” or “you should exercise more.” While said in good faith, these kinds of statements can often seem invalidating and unhelpful.
3. Be Patient
Unlike some problems relating to physical health, psychological welfare can’t really be treated in a matter of days or weeks. Even when the treatment plan involves medications, it can take weeks for them to even start taking effect, let alone enable the person to truly start recovering. This is why it’s so important to be patient with your loved one. Yes, they are likely to come to you over and over about the same exact problem. They might even seem stuck in a loop of unhealthy behavior patterns that are harmful to themselves no matter how many times you try to talk to them about changing their ways.
Seeing the people we hold dear suffer is never easy, it can downright get frustrating at times. However, try to remember that they’re not doing it for attention – they genuinely need your support. In some cases, the person may seem to be getting better and then suddenly relapse. It’s normal for mental health conditions to wax and wane like this, so don’t get discouraged and try to stay a consistent source of support throughout the good times and the bad.
4. Set Boundaries
As you can see, it can take a while for a person to overcome mental health issues. Sometimes it’s a matter of months, other times it can take years. That means that you need to avoid burning yourself out in the process. It’s okay to set boundaries with the person you’re supporting. You can’t be there for them 24/7, and you need time to focus on your own life as well. Let them know what you’re comfortable with in terms of frequency and intensity of communication, and don’t feel guilty about sticking to those boundaries. They will enable you to be there for them in the long run.
Of course, if they’re experiencing a crisis, putting in more energy than usual is a good thing. That is – if they’re accepting of help, and willing to take appropriate steps to help themselves as well. If they aren’t being reasonably cooperative, the best thing you can do for them is to get outside help. Contact an emergency hotline or even notify the proper authorities if you think they’re a danger to themselves or others. You cannot be there for a person refusing help, and it’s not healthy to put that burden strictly on yourself. Even if this angers them at the time, they will be glad you took action once they get better.
While helping a loved one through mental health issues can be difficult, it’s important to remember that there are some things you can do to support and help them. Listen intently, be patient, set boundaries, and get outside help if necessary. With your support, they will hopefully be able to get better and lead happy and healthy life.