Helping a loved one suffering with their mental health can be a huge challenge. The revelation that someone you care about is ill can led to feelings of frustration, anger and hopelessness. It can be difficult to know what steps to take, how to help, what to say and most importantly how to look after yourself while caring for another. I have put together a few tips below.
*Please see end for note
Take in everything the person is saying. Try to be patient and not interrupt. In a lot of cases, feelings are bottled up for a long time and it takes great courage for the person to talk about such personal issues. This is also helpful for you to gather information and paves a path towards understanding.
Use positive words
Encouraging words can be incredibly motivating but be careful; phrases such as “you have nothing to worry about, such and such has it worse” can lead the person to feel guilt or blame. “Sure we all get depressed sometimes” and “Nobody likes getting up in the mornings, just get on with it” can invalidate how the person is feeling. Dismissive comments can have a negative effect on recovery. A basic “Things are tough, everything is shit right now but we can work on getting you better, let’s do everything we can, try our best and see what happens. This may take some time but just know that I am here every step of the way.” Action words, fighting talk, positive attitude, empathetic and teamwork – these are all important.
If they could just get over it, believe me they would. Recovery is more than likely a long road. They will have good days and bad. Go at their pace, help them with small steps and goals but try not to show disappointment if recovery is not progressing at the speed you had hoped for. Chances are the person is feeling the same level of disappointment and can feel ashamed. When someone is sick, the smallest task can feel like climbing a mountain so go easy! Putting extra pressure on someone can break even the strongest of people.
Education is key! You should never attempt to diagnose but look at the options. Discuss them as well as treatment options. Having open communication is important, the person may have ideas that they are for and against. Talking about medication, alternative therapies and all the different routes can make things easier. Research every available option. A diagnoses is not a label but more of “hey this is a thing, many people have this thing, and you have this thing, along with lots of other people with this thing, it’s alright to have all of the things” For me, it helps me feel somewhat normal, putting a name on something can make it feel more valid. If a diagnosis is reached or a condition suspected, ensure that you read up about symptoms, treatments, and prognosis, try to find blogs and articles online about personal experiences.
Most of this is covered above. Offer to attend appointments, make gentle suggestions, and just show your support! If the person is comfortable with sharing their recovery plan with you be sure to ask for updates and be prepared to provide words of encouragement if things start to go awry. It is also important to have conversations that have nothing to do with mental health, their mental illness is not the center of the universe nor should it be.
Look after yourself
You are not a machine. You have a life and everything that comes with it too. As I said above their health problems cannot be at the center of things all the time. It is healthy to step away and deal with your own problems too. You need to spend time with others and enjoy whatever it is you love to do. It is okay to discuss your feelings too, telling someone that while yes you are trying to help and be there in every way possible, you are only human. Your feelings, worries and emotions are equally valid and there should always be a place for them too. This is where open communication comes in again.
This list is obviously for a Parent/child/spouse/partner/relative/BFF, basically a close relationship. If Jimmy that you have a pint with every now and again is having mental health problems chances are Jimmy thinks you have no business following him to his doctor’s appointments and sticking self-help books through his letterbox every other day. Jimmy may want your help or he might have people in his life that he is more comfortable sharing things with, if this is the case try not to be offended. As long as you know he is not facing things alone that is all that matters. Just make sure to check in with Jimmy every now and again, let him know you are there if needed and maybe try to take his mind off things if an opportunity arises