Being There When It Counts — The Do's and Don'ts of Supporting Loved Ones With Mental Health Issues

Being There When It Counts — The Dos and Don’ts of Supporting Loved Ones With Mental Health Issues

Olivia and Anna have been inseparable friends who share everything. Although lately, Anna had noticed a change in Olivia’s behavior. She had become withdrawn and easily irritable.

Worried, Anna organized a surprise gathering of mutual friends to cheer her up. However, the crowded party triggered Olivia’s anxiety, and she suffered a panic attack. Anna felt like she had missed the mark and apologized to her friend.

The heartfelt apology touched Olivia’s heart, and she opened up about her struggle with her mental health. As they spoke, Anna realized the importance of understanding how to support loved ones with mental health conditions.

What Olivia needed from her friend was quite different from what Anna thought she wanted. Realizing this, Anna began to learn more about her friend’s disorder while offering a listening ear and sympathetic support.

Like Anna, you may have tried helping others with mental health issues, only to feel like you were making the situation worse. You are not alone. To this end, we cover how to recognize mental health challenges and the best way to support a loved one on their journey toward recovery.

Recognize Mental Health Issues

Some primary indicators of a mental health problem include:

Extreme Mood Changes

Rapid emotional shifts between extreme highs and lows may indicate a mental illness. These emotions can quickly change from excessive energy or manic episodes to deep sadness or lack of interest.

Withdrawal From Friends and Social Activities

If a family member or friend starts isolating themselves from social activities or other family members, it could point to a mental health crisis.

Excessive Fears, Worries, and Anxieties

Mental health problems can cause excessive fear and anxiety that disrupt daily life. Mental illnesses such as extreme phobias can be debilitating to everyday function and rob a loved one of their peace.

Worrying Sleep Patterns and Appetite Changes

Another sign of a mental health problem could be sudden shifts in eating patterns. Take note of any sudden weight loss or gain and emotional eating. Extreme changes in sleep patterns could also be associated with various mental health conditions.

Prolonged Depression

An extended period of sadness, emptiness, or unsettling thoughts can point to a mental health disorder. If a loved one talks about feeling suicidal or endangering their own life, encourage them to call the suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433).

Social Isolation and Fear of Not Being Good Enough

Create a safe space for them to talk about their struggles with mental health.
Create a safe space for them to talk about their struggles with mental health.

An intense need to be perfect, fear of failure, and feelings of inadequacy can lead to self-doubt and self-criticism. These feelings can lead to low self-esteem and social avoidance.

How to Help Someone With a Mental Illness

If a friend or family member is experiencing any warning signs of mental health issues, seeking professional help is essential. Remember, early intervention can make a world of difference in treatment outcomes.

Additionally, here are the dos and don’ts to support your loved one without aggravating their condition:

The Dos

Here are some positive steps you can take to help a loved one with mental illness:

Do Ask How You Can Help

Like Anna and Olivia, it may be easier to converse with your loved one about how to best support them. Pick a good time and ask them about any specific request or preference they have that you could fulfill.

Do Be Patient

Healing is a process. Be patient and compassionate throughout their journey. There may be ups and downs along the way, but with understanding and empathy, together, we can rise and heal.

Do Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help

Encourage them to seek help and offer assistance in finding suitable mental health professionals for their disorder. Be patient with their decision-making as they might initially downplay the severity of their mental illness.

I don’t know how to support my bipolar dad when he’s being so awful to my mom. He doesn’t take his medication because he doesn’t feel he needs it.”

Do Listen Without Judgment

If and when they share their feelings and experiences, listen carefully and compassionately. Create a safe space free of judgment and criticism to provide them with comfort and reassurance.

Do Learn More About Their Mental Illness

You can educate yourself on the Mental Health Act and the particular mental health issue(s) they have that could include eating disorders, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorders. Possessing this information will enable you to offer informed care and support.

Do Keep Things as Normal as Possible

Friends and family of the affected person should strive to maintain a sense of normalcy. They feel grounded and comforted by continuing regular activities, spending time together, and keeping routines intact.

Do Offer Practical and Emotional Help

Maintaining routines and normalcy provides a sense of comfort for the affected person.
Maintaining routines and normalcy provides a sense of comfort for the affected person.

You can offer to accompany them to their first appointments and social events, provide positive affirmations, and encourage hope as they undergo medical treatment.

The Don’ts

Here are some tips to avoid making things worse:

Don’t Assume to Know How They Feel

Mental health problems affect people differently. Avoid making assumptions about their experiences or emotions. Instead, choose to lend an empathetic ear and offer emotional support.

Don’t Obsess Over Their Mental Health Problems

Try not to get consumed by their condition. Continue to engage in everyday conversations while offering emotional support when they need it.

Don’t Neglect Your Self-Care

Supporting someone we love through such a tough time can be emotionally draining. Prioritizing self-care and emotional resilience is key to building the strength to stay supportive.

Don’t Force Them to Get Help

No matter how much we may love them, we cannot get help on their behalf nor force them to visit a professional. Instead, you can offer gentle support by encouraging your loved one to seek mental health services.

What to Do in an Emergency Situation

If your loved one with a mental health issue is in danger of harming themselves or others, take appropriate actions to ensure everyone’s safety. If in immediate danger, call emergency services, 911, and keep the environment safe by removing any objects that could pose a threat.

If you feel overwhelmed or need more information or support, contact local social services with mental health initiatives, or look up support groups in your area, such as a community mental health team.

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