How To Support A Loved One Who Happens To Have A Mental Illness…
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash
I recently read (for a second time) a wonderful piece written by Becca Risa Luna on How To Support Your Loved One With A Mental Illness and thought it would be a great idea to write a similar post on what my loved ones have done to support me, someone who struggles with mental illness.
I have struggled with mental illness for a long time now, my journey to take care of my mental health has been a roller coaster but has improved tremendously. I wouldn’t be where I am if it were not for my loved ones who have supported me.
When I was 12 not many people in my life knew how to handle someone struggling with mental illness. Maybe it was because when I was 12 (only 10 short years ago), mental illness wasn’t something openly discussed.
I couldn’t even talk to my family about it. Imagine being 12 with suicidal thoughts and being told that you were being dramatic, that you were just “sad”, or even better yet, that you were crazy. Imagine being 12 and going to school and not being able to connect with others your age because they just couldn’t relate to what you were going through. Sure, maybe there were others who had similar struggles, but how would you know if no one talks about it – I grew up during a time when mental illness was perceived as a taboo topic.
As I aged it seemed as if more and more of my peers were catching up to what I had been going through for years.
To those who have stayed in my life since I was 12 years old, thank you. I know that I put you through hell at times – I will never be able to repay you.
Tips on how to support someone you love that struggles with mental illness…
I hope you try to remember that it isn’t their fault.
I was told for so many years to “calm down” or to “stop being so negative”. I suggest not saying those words to someone you love because I promise if we could “calm down” or “stop being so negative” we would.
Some Adjectives To Refrain From…
crazy, sad, nuts, weird, psycho, freak, disturbed, OCD, cripple, spaz, schizo, insane, bipolar, mental, ETC.
Some Phrases To Refrain From…
You’re (being) bipolar…You’re just sad…You need to calm down…You’re a spaz…Stop being so paranoid… I’m addicted to… I’m triggered/that’s triggering… Just exercise… Suck it up… Get over it… Why don’t you smile more… You don’t look sick… It’s all in your head…Cheer up… It’s all in your head… No one ever said life was fair… A lot of people have it worse than you… ETC.
Encourage them to seek some form of help – but don’t force them to – encouragement can go a long way, but constantly nagging about it will give the opposite results.
For the love of all things holy and good, do NOT tell them you don’t believe in mental illness and that people are just “sad” or “stressed”.
It’s OK if they don’t want to talk about their mental illness or what is going on inside of their head but try and be there for when they do want to start talking.
If you can help with simple tasks that your loved one is struggling with, don’t judge them, just provide a helping hand.
It is helpful to try and educate yourself about the illness your loved one has. My therapist is wonderful and allows me to bring loved ones with me who might now understand what I am going through. A lot of the time someone with a mental illness can’t explain to you professionally what is going on or what you can do to help them. He will never understand how much it meant to me, I am so grateful.
Try and get them outdoors or at least out of the house as much as possible. No matter how badly they want to stay in bed, you can’t let them.
Leave your phone on at night in case of emergencies during those rough patches – I can’t tell you how many times I have had to call my dad in the middle of the night because my thoughts get the best of me. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even need to talk, all I needed was for someone to be on the other side.
Remind them that there are better days to come and that the pain they are feeling will not last forever.
Recognize that sometimes the things that they say can be scary – don’t give up on them. Talk them down from those terrible thoughts. If you truly are in fear that they will harm themselves then call for help, whoever help may be (mother, father, spouse, therapist, police).
Going off of that, it is important to know who you should contact in an emergency – make a crisis plan because you don’t want to be contacting that person in their life who doesn’t believe in mental illness.
Most importantly, take care of yourself and your mental health. You need to understand that your loved one cares about your mental health, sometimes more than their own. It is okay to give yourself some space and some time to focus on yourself.
I hope that you find these helpful as you go on supporting someone that you love who has a mental illness. This list is not dedicated to one specific person, you may have a friend, a mother, a father, a sibling, a cousin, or a spouse who has a mental illness.
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