Having a mental health problem isn’t easy, and it’s equally as challenging if a loved one or friend has it. This illness doesn’t immediately manifest physically like others. However, it does affect the person and the people around them.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one out of eight people worldwide suffers from a mental health issue. Thus, it’s highly likely someone close to you has it too. So, what can you do to let them know you’re there to support them? Here are some tips that should help:
Do Your Research
There are over 200 known forms of mental illnesses. Each issue manifests differently yet some share similar symptoms. Therefore, each form may be grouped into 12 main types. These include, but are not limited to:
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Reading up on the types of mental health problems, especially the ones your loved one has, lets you know what actions to take. In fact, treatment may differ from case to case, even if it’s for the same issue. So, adequate research should help prepare yourself and your loved one for what to expect.
Topics concerning mental health also tend to be sensitive. For instance, people with depression may think of self-harm. Hence, it’s best to have an idea of your loved one’s condition before conversing with them. That way, you’ll know how to navigate your discussion and avoid causing a larger rift between you. You can check this article, What to Do When A Loved One Talks To You About Suicide, for an example of how to interact with someone with suicidal thoughts.
You don’t need to be a doctor to know about mental health problems. Medical journals found online could help you kickstart your research. Additionally, speaking with a mental health expert will give you the necessary information to properly support and care for your loved one.
Make Them Feel Comfortable
Not every person suffering from a mental health problem is willing to talk about it to anyone, not even their family. Most often, it’s because they’re uncomfortable with where they are or who’s with them. If your loved one wants to talk about their condition to you, they may trust you more than they do others. You give them a sense of comfort, which they can’t find through anyone else. Thus, you must maintain that ease in the atmosphere.
One way you can do this is to find a place without distractions. You may have a conversation in the person’s bedroom or a quiet, shaded spot in your backyard. Temperature is believed to have either positive or negative effects on mental health. So, look for an area that’s neither too hot nor cold. Your loved one may be more inclined to converse and cooperate if the weather is desirable.
On the other hand, if your loved one is uncomfortable speaking to you, find out who they’re close to. It could be their friend or, better yet, their therapist. These people may know more about your loved one’s condition, expectations, and fears. Set up a meeting and coordinate with them to help make your loved one’s home and surroundings safe and comfortable.
Listen Closely And Well
When your loved one does talk to you, it’s crucial to listen to them intently. It’s hard enough for them to explain their condition to anyone. Don’t make it worse by listening halfheartedly. You’re there as someone who cares for them and wants to help. Let that genuine concern show through your attentiveness.
Be responsive and maintain eye contact. Your acknowledgments can be anything from a nod of affirmation or a phrase like ‘I understand.’ What’s important is that they know that someone is paying close attention to their concerns. Thus, avoid doing other things while they’re speaking to you. Not only is it rude, but it shows invalidation of their feelings.
Like talking with people who are nursing other illnesses, it’s vital to speak gently to someone with a mental health issue. Some people with anxiety, for example, get triggered by loud and abrupt sounds. So, keep your voice at an even volume and tone while speaking with them. Stay as calm as possible, even if the conversation turns sour.
You can ease into a discussion by starting with something neutral, like the weather or their hobbies. They may find the willingness to continue speaking if you begin with an exciting topic. Treat your interaction as a casual conversation. Some people with mental health problems may stop conversing if they feel they’re being interviewed.
Additionally, speak to them in a manner that’s appropriate to their age level. If the person is an adult, talk to them as you would with another adult. Their mental health issue doesn’t equate to their intelligence level. A person with a mental illness may respect and trust you more if you respect them in return. If possible, attend a family counseling session to build trust and improve communication between you and your loved one.
Avoid Insensitive Words And Actions
While conversing with your loved one about their issue, you must be careful with what you say or do. Certain words or actions may trigger the person, making them refuse to continue speaking. Responses like ‘Everyone feels like that sometimes’ or ‘Just keep praying’ often aren’t taken well by those with mental illnesses. These phrases belittle their condition as if it’s a phase that will go away and not a valid health concern.
People who have little knowledge of mental health care also make the mistake of blaming the individual for their situation. It’s not their fault that they have this problem, the same way some people may get the flu. Criticism and hostility will get your conversation nowhere. Your loved one may feel much worse than before and lose your trust. Thus, you must treat them with dignity, whether they’re an adult or a minor.
Contrary to what you might believe, it’s also best to resist giving out unsolicited advice. Often, a person with a mental illness needs someone to listen to them. Leave the professional advice to their therapist. They know what’s best for their patient.
Ask The Right Questions
As mentioned previously, not everyone enjoys being asked about their mental health situation. But asking questions is still the best way to learn more about a person. When you feel your loved one is comfortable enough to share more, ask how you can help them. This method is a better option than forcing them to seek psychiatric assistance.
However, don’t pry and press on too much. Mental health is still a highly private matter for many individuals. You may not immediately get the answers you want, and that’s fine. You’re less likely to gather enough viable information in one sitting. With regular discussions with your loved one, you’ll eventually discover more about them and create ways to help.
Throughout the conversation, observe how your loved one reacts. If they begin to show signs of confusion or discomfort with your questions, end the discussion and continue it another time.
Help Explore Options
Most people with mental illnesses want help. They may not actively look for it, but they do want it somehow. While their therapist might already have a treatment ready, they may need you to ensure it follows through. If your loved one has no idea what to do, you can work on possible options together.
It’s normal to provide suggestions, but if they refuse, don’t force it. Instead, ask them what they want and what they think they need. You’re both here to explore the best choices, so don’t stick with your one idea. They might have a better understanding of their situation than you. However, they don’t know how to put their ideas into practice.
Therefore, help your loved one plan a routine and set specific goals they can manage. Take everything step by step. Don’t bombard them with tasks all at once. You’re there to guide and remind them of their daily goals, like remembering to take medication.
For better results, coordinate with the therapist. Many mental health experts recommend family- or couple-based treatment programs to improve the person’s condition and internal relationships. You and their therapist can work together to provide the support your loved one needs.
Care For Yourself
Helping others, especially those with mental illnesses, can be emotionally taxing. Not everyone is patient and understanding throughout the day. Hence, aside from supporting your loved one, you must also care for yourself. You can’t care for them properly if you’re always worn out.
Even with a mental health issue, your loved one is still an individual who needs time alone. Give each other boundaries and allow yourselves to take a break once in a while. During your private moments, try seeking a support group of fellow caregivers. It’s essential that you find an outlet for your situation and a community that can give you advice. Discussing the trials of supporting someone with a mental illness is only one way to ease your anxiety and learn more tips from like-minded individuals.
People with mental health problems shouldn’t be outcasts in their own community or home. As their loved one, let them know that you want them to feel better. Be there when they need someone to listen, and try to share your positivity. Hope is a powerful tool that could make their lives easier when paired with your genuine concern and support.