Mental illness has long been stigmatized, causing those struggling to keep quiet. However, as mental health awareness has grown, the topic has become less taboo and more people are seeking help. When a loved one is dealing with mental health issues, it can be difficult to know how to support them. Despite the desire to help, it may feel like there is nothing that can be done.
Kalley Hartman, a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director at Ocean Recovery, offers advice on how to support a loved one in need. She emphasizes that while you may not be able to solve their problems, there are still ways to show your support and assist them through their difficulties. Here are her tips for offering support.
Attempt to comprehend their emotions.
Empathizing with your loved one’s situation is crucial. To do so, educate yourself on mental health so that you can understand their experiences and respond appropriately. Avoid making them feel ashamed and instead validate their feelings and offer your support. Your role is to listen and be there for them.
Mental illness can impede a person’s ability to perform daily activities, like grocery shopping or meal preparation. If possible, offer help, but be mindful not to overextend yourself. Avoid putting excessive pressure on yourself and only take on what you can manage, as it may also impact your mental health.
Advise them to consult with a professional.
Encouraging loved ones to seek professional help is important when they are dealing with mental health issues. Research shows that having a support system and seeking help from professionals can make a difference in managing mental health issues, suggests Kailey Hartman. There are many resources available, such as hotlines and online resources, that can be helpful. Gently guiding them in the right direction can make a big difference.
It’s understandable to feel uneasy about suggesting professional help to someone. Avoid the impression of pushing their issues onto others or lack of concern. Instead, express that a professional may be able to provide more assistance and that you will always be there to listen.
Be a supportive listener.
Sometimes, the best thing we can offer a loved one going through a tough time is a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. As Kalley Hartman reminds us, mental health struggles can be overwhelming, so it’s important to be there for our loved ones, even if they don’t want to talk at first. Respect their boundaries, and let them know that you’re there for them when they’re ready to open up. When they do, make sure to listen actively and let them know that you care.
Offering a listening ear and being a supportive friend is more valuable than giving material gifts or taking someone out for fancy dinners. Being present for someone during tough times is important, and sometimes, just having someone to talk to can make all the difference.
Ensure that they practice self-care.
Self-care is essential for maintaining good mental and physical health by managing and reducing stress and anxiety. Developing a reliable self-care routine is especially important for individuals dealing with mental illness. If your loved one lacks a self-care routine or struggles to engage in self-care, it’s important to support and encourage them. Thankfully, self-care can be simple and cost-effective.
“Self-care can include simple activities such as taking a walk, reading, or spending time alone,” states Kalley Hartman. The crucial aspect is that the individual is actively engaging in self-care. To support them, offer to join them for a walk instead of appearing as a caregiver, while still being able to observe their well-being.
Assist them in making contact with their loved ones
“Mental health issues can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness,” says Kalley Hartman. To support a loved one, encourage them to connect with friends and family. They may need help taking the first step, but your presence can give them the confidence to reach out. Remember, some individuals may be hesitant to talk about their mental health struggles, but connecting with loved ones can show them how much support they have.
“By seeking help, not only will you be assisting them, but also yourself. This will ease the burden of being their sole support and prioritize your own mental health. Remember, they do not have to navigate their mental illness alone. Surrounding them with a supportive network can make all the difference.”