When a friend or family member is sick, it can be difficult to see a person you care about struggle with the symptoms. The same holds true for loved ones who have a mental illness. Although they may not be physically weakened, your support is still significant and necessary in your loved ones’ journey. At times, it can be the help they need the most to get better. Here are more ways you can support someone who is mentally ill.
Learn about the Warning Signs
Early detection of possible symptoms can make a difference. Often, family and friends are the first ones who notice if something is wrong. Some signs can be evident in the changes in their behavior like withdrawing from social interactions, encountering unusual problems with functioning at school, work, or social activities, or experiencing dramatic changes in their sleep and appetite. These are just potential symptoms of mental health problems but can also be connected to other health issues. The best way to confirm it is to have a formal evaluation by a medical professional.
Help Them Seek Treatment
To prevent more symptoms from developing, it’s best to seek immediate help. However, your loved one may feel hesitant. So, encourage them to talk to a mental health care provider or with their primary care physician if it’s more comfortable for them. Remind your loved ones that this is one of the ways they can take care of themselves and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not a weakness. If they are still unsure how to handle their situation, you can offer to accompany them to their first doctor’s appointment. Some people need extra support while others prefer to handle certain situations on their own. Avoid insisting on keeping them company if they don’t want any. Instead, ask if there is anything you can do to help like driving them to the treatment center or hospital.
Educate Yourself about Their Condition
You can only successfully support someone who is mentally ill if you have all the information about their condition. Learn about their symptoms, treatment options, and what else you can expect. You can do your own research, but make sure to only trust reliable sources like the National Institute of Mental Health. If you will accompany your loved one to their doctor’s appointments, you may want to take the opportunity to ask questions and take down notes. This way, you know exactly what you can do to help them in their recovery.
Provide the Support They Need
There are different ways you can support your friend or relative who is battling mental illness. You can help when they are getting treatments, creating a healthier lifestyle, or needing emotional support. If you live near your loved one, you can help remind them to take their medications, accompany them to treatment appointments, or do their counseling homework. Also, you can encourage them to be honest with their doctor if they are having problems with taking their medicine or experiencing any side effects.
Some other challenges your loved one may encounter include day-to-day tasks involving finances, housing, nutrition, exercise, and recreation. You can help them look for jobs at the local public employment office or check out supported employment programs. Some community centers also offer skills training to equip individuals for employment. When looking for housing resources, you can suggest reaching out to their local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) affiliate or help them find public housing in their area. As part of promoting a healthy lifestyle, you can volunteer to be your loved one’s exercise buddy. In addition, you can do outdoor physical activities that you can both enjoy and use to stay in shapes such as swimming, biking, or hiking.
One of the most important roles you can play in your loved one’s recovery is to provide emotional support. You can let them know that they are not alone and that they don’t have to feel ashamed of their condition. While mental health awareness is gaining traction, illnesses like substance abuse disorder still carry a stigma. So when you offer encouraging words for someone in rehab, this can help them feel accepted and motivate them to work on their recovery.
Find Support for Yourself
As you help your family or friend get treated for their mental illness, don’t forget to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, too. Recognize when you have reached your limit for giving support and when you need to reach out for help for yourself. Consider joining a support group for family members of people with mental illness through NAMI and Mental Health America. This way, you can connect with other people going through similar experiences and help you work through your emotions.
It’s not easy to live with a mental illness or to watch your loved one suffer from its symptoms. Though you may initially feel helpless, there are many ways for you to support them. As you help them get through the challenges of their medical condition, remember to also take care of yourself. When you have your own support system, it becomes easier to support others.