How to Support a Loved One Struggling With Mental Illness
By Adam Hornung
Sep 1, 2016
Updated Nov 17, 2023
5 min read
Don't ignore your gut feeling. Educate yourself about the warning signs of anxiety and depression. These include:
Be up front with the individual and show that you are concerned and want to help.
RELATED: Understanding Depression
It is unlikely you’ll find success by forcing someone to get help. Instead, focus on encouraging them by talking about how things can be better. If the individual is in treatment, try to stay involved by asking about upcoming appointments and commenting about their progress.
Continue to include the individual in your life and in your plans, and frequently reassure the individual that you care. Often, the most important part of a treatment program is positive interaction in daily life.
Educate yourself about symptoms related to the individual's illness so you can recognize them. This will help you to see certain situations from their point of view, which will allow you to better understand what they are feeling during difficult moments.
Each person struggling with mental illness will reach out and accept help at a different pace. Try not to compare your family member or friend with others. Also, every person who has a family member or friend with mental illness will cope in different ways, so try to not compare the way you are coping with the way others cope. You can learn from the experience of others, but in the end just focus on what works best for you.
DON'T be afraid to ask the question, "Are you feeling like you might hurt yourself?" It is a myth that this will somehow plant the idea in a person's head. If you are concerned that your friend or loved one may hurt himself or herself, ASK THE QUESTION.
To help prepare for this conversation, try to have phone numbers of the individual's providers and the number of a local crisis hotline line close at hand in the event you need to reference them. It also helps to identify family members who are aware of the individual's mental illness and be prepared to call them if needed.
Know the individual's diagnoses and medications in case you have to give them to emergency providers, and be prepared to call 911 in the event that the individual's safety or the safety of yourself and others is in question.
Related: Why Do We Whisper About Suicide?
Understand the symptoms of stress so that you can recognize when they appear. There are a few things you can do to help prevent stress, including physical exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and asking for help from family/friends when you feel you need a break.
Set standards with yourself and with the individual so you feel safe. This means being able to identify what may happen that could make you feel unsafe, or what would make you feel a need to call for help. Don't be ashamed to share these standards with the individual.
If faith and religion are a strong part of your life, look to members and leaders of your preferred organization for support. Make sure they are educated about various behavioral health issues, and how faith can help support recovery.
When 1 in 3 people will struggle with mental illness at some point in their life, it’s important to understand that EVERYONE will be involved. This means people battling mental illness, and those supporting loved ones with mental illness, are never alone.
To learn more about how you can help share the struggle, visit ldshospital.com/share