5 Ways to Support Someone Who is Living With a Mental Illness

It can be difficult to know how to support someone who is living with mental illness. Even if you very much want to support your loved one, it is common to feel lost, afraid, and frustrated as they progress through their diagnosis and treatment process. By exploring these five tips, you can play a vital role in supporting your loved one through their recovery process while strengthening your relationship with them.

1. Listen with empathy

People living with mental illness can feel isolated and frustrated when their friends, family, and caregivers do not understand their experiences and perspectives. You can help them feel accepted and understood through empathic communication; in fact, family support is correlated with better treatment outcomes. Make time to talk to your friend or family member living with mental illness. Give them space to express themselves freely, without judging or trying to solve their problems. Become curious about what it is like for your loved one to live with mental illness. Help them open up by asking them about their experiences and perspectives. Try to hear them, understand them, and validate their thoughts and feelings.

2. Learn about their illness

There are many misconceptions about mental illness, some that you may be aware of and others that are less recognizable. To be a true mental health ally, it is important to understand the facts about mental illness. What are the symptoms of your loved one’s disorder? What are some common myths and misconceptions? What are the treatment options? Get information from trusted sources such as mental health organizations, family doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and other medical professionals. You can also read personal accounts of people living with mental illnesses in books or online. Perhaps most importantly, you can ask your loved one to teach you about their disorder or you can offer to educate yourselves together.

3. Get involved in their treatment

Mental illness affects the whole family, so family involvement in treatment is not only supportive but necessary. Look for treatment programs that include family participation. Not only will you be there to help your loved one through treatment, but you can learn about specific tools to help the entire family throughout the recovery process. Treatments can include medication, individual therapy, physical therapies, and experiential therapies.

4. Adjust your expectations

It is natural to want your loved one to recover as quickly and fully as possible. However, as author and person living with bipolar disorder Victoria Maxwell writes, “The recovery process is not a straight line, nor is it one that happens quickly.” Accept that recovery is a long-term project, and that each person will progress at their own pace. Try to be realistic about your expectations and help your loved one manage their expectations as well. Instead of thinking in terms of “success” and “failure,” celebrate and nourish their abilities and interests in other areas. There will be days when everything goes smoothly, and other days that will be more challenging. Stay flexible and be ready to adapt to the ups and downs of recovery.

5. Support healthy lifestyle changes

Support your loved one in making healthy lifestyle choices. Eating and sleeping well and daily physical activity are important to recovery. Eliminating unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive drinking are also important. You can lead by example, participate in your loved one’s new healthy lifestyle, or simply cheer them on as they make these changes.

– Gabrielle Lesage

From Share&Care Summer 2022

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