7 Ways to Support a Loved One with a Mental Health Challenge
We all want our loved ones to be healthy and happy, but the fact is that most of us will have a friend or family member who struggles with a mental health issue. It’s always hard to see someone you care about suffer, and that difficulty is sometimes compounded by the practical challenges mental health issues can present. Many mental health challenges can impair your ability to work or get along with others. Despite the challenges of supporting a loved one with a mental health challenge, the effort is worth it and things do get better. Here are some ways you can help.
Ask what you can do.
The simplest way to find out how you can help someone is just to ask. Everyone is different and it’s impossible to predict exactly what someone will need. Express your willingness to help and listen to what your friend has to say. See if she can tell you exactly what she’s feeling and how long it’s been going on. Find out whether she has sought help and if she’s following a treatment plan. If she would rather not discuss it, that’s her right. The important thing is she knows you’re concerned and willing to help.
Learn as much as you can.
Most people know surprisingly little about mental health. For example, most people don’t know the warning signs of addiction, depression, or anxiety disorders. Many people hold wild misconceptions about mental illness. For example, many people confuse depression with just being sad, or believe that people with schizophrenia are more violent than the general population. Many problems can hide in plain sight. For example, drinking is so common in most western countries that an alcohol use disorder is difficult to spot unless you know what to look for. Many people we dismiss as difficult, stubborn, confrontational, lazy, or odd may actually be exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. The more familiar we are with the basics of mental health, the better we can help the people we care about.
Keep in touch.
People often withdrawal and become isolated when struggling with a mental health issue. This is especially true of depression, addiction, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Unfortunately, isolation only makes things worse. What someone with a mental health issue really needs is love and connection, but typically their condition makes it difficult or impossible for them to reach out. The result is often a downward spiral of feeling worse and becoming more isolated. They need friends and family to reach out for them. Obviously, you can’t force someone to be sociable, but you can make an effort to stay in contact. Call or stop by regularly. Invite her along when you make plans, even if she often declines or doesn’t show up. Even the invitation can be reassuring. Don’t put too much pressure on her to have fun or be talkative. Just spending time together makes a big difference.
Be prepared to do some of the work.
You can’t do the work of recovery for her, but there are other ways you can help. One of the worst things about mental illness is that it makes it very difficult to help yourself. If you’re depressed, for example, even the thought of having to call and make an appointment with the doctor can feel overwhelming. Even if you manage to do it, you still have to show up, fill out paperwork, then go to the pharmacy, or make an appointment with a therapist. And you will probably feel like none of it will help anyway. You can make the whole process much easier for someone if you offer to make the appointment, or drive her to the doctor. Just having company can make the process more tolerable. Later, you may be able to help by making sure she follows her treatment plan by taking her medications or going to her appointments.
Be willing to participate in therapy.
Depending on the situation, you may have to play a part in therapy as well. If it’s a family member or partner who is having trouble, you are likely to be involved with therapy at some point. Some people find this uncomfortable, as they feel like they are somehow to blame for their loved ones’ condition. At the very least, they may have to change some aspect of their behavior, which can be hard. In practice, therapy is not about placing blame, but rather about greater acceptance and understanding. Participating in therapy is the best way to understand what your loved one needs from you to recover and be happier.
Support healthy lifestyle choices.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle is a big part of recovering from both mental illness and addiction. This may include a healthier diet, more exercise, more sleep, and a regular schedule. Anything you can do to support these lifestyle changes will help. Offering to help cook healthy meals or go for a daily walk together might be a good start. At the very least, don’t drag your friend to a late night at the bar.
Mental illness rarely goes away quickly. It’s not like the flu, which is done after a week or two. After your loved one enters treatment or therapy, you can typically expect slow progress over the course of weeks or months. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which is the standard psychotherapy for many mental health issues, takes about eight to 10 weeks. Many people see improvements during this time, but it may take some time for the new habits of thinking and behaving to become familiar. Medications, such as SSRIs, which are typically prescribed for depression or anxiety usually take about four to six weeks to start working. Even cutting edge technologies like transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, which directly jumpstart the neurons that are typically lethargic in depressed people, can take several weeks to make a difference. Progress is often frustratingly slow, but if you’re ready to persevere, your support can speed things along.
If someone you love is struggling with mental illness, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We use cutting-edge treatment modalities to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.