What Can I Do? Helping a Loved One with Mental Illness

Mental well-being has become something of a rare commodity in our society, and everyone either knows someone dealing with a mental illness disorder or is living with one themselves. It’s easy to feel helpless when a loved one is struggling with an invisible force you may never have experienced or even fully understand, but don’t lose hope; there are several things you can do to help someone help themselves.

What Can I Do? Helping a Loved One with Mental Illness

Take a Non-Accusatory Approach

Do you respond positively to accusations and demands? If you do, you’re the exception; almost no one likes being told that they are at fault and need to change. When someone feels attacked, naturally they are going to shut down rather than open up. One way to approach a close one about their mental health gently and without accusation is to consciously use ‘I’ statements, such as “What can I do to help?” or “Can you help me understand why you are uncomfortable going to a counselor?” Offer any resources you think may be helpful or contact information for a clinic, but do not push too hard. Aggressive tactics will only alienate the person you are trying to help and make it less likely that they’ll to come to you in the future.

Offer Your Company

Engaging in professional therapy is often an essential step in the path to mental health, but simple acts of companionship and empathy without demands of anything in return are just as important. Simply being present and letting someone know that they’re not alone can provide profound comfort. Educate yourself on their condition, the myths and the facts of what they’re going through, and be open to sensitive but honest discussion when and where they’re comfortable doing so. You don’t need training in counseling to be compassionate, and–while this may sound cliche–compassion really can be the best medicine.

Provide Unconditional Positive Regard

During sessions, cognitive behavioral therapists exhibit something called unconditional positive regard, never judging or condemning a patient no matter what comes up in therapy. This absence of shaming builds trust and encourages honesty. All of us make mistakes, but providing nonjudgmental support for your loved one through their struggle, through their setbacks and perhaps sometimes irrational behavior, will help keep them on the track towards mental health. They’re most likely receiving plenty of criticism and vitriol from society–and even themselves–but you can choose to be a source of positivity and reinforcement.

Take Care of Yourself

That being said, do not forget you have a responsibility to yourself as well. You have no obligation to ever stay in a situation that makes you feel unsafe, physically or psychologically. Seek counseling yourself if you’re struggling with the pressure of dealing with the mental illness of someone close to you. And remember, you cannot and should not fix someone else’s life for them. Sometimes all you can do is provide love and support.

If you or a loved one are ready for professional guidance to a healthier and happier you, please contact us for information or to set up an appointment. For further resources, try the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the American Psychological Association sites on mental health. If you need immediate help, you can use one of these channels.

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