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Helping A Loved One Cope With A Mental Illness

When someone you're close to is diagnosed with a mental illness, it is normal to want to do everything you can to help. You want to be supportive but probably don't know what it is they need. 

It can be challenging for someone without mental health experience to talk to someone about what they're going through. You don't know what to do or say, but you can learn. 

Mental illnesses are incredibly common, and the information about them is vast. The fact that you want to help in whatever way you can is a good sign. You may just need some guidance. 

Helping a Loved One Cope With a Mental Illness

Talking to a Loved One Struggling With a Mental Illness

Talking to a loved one about their mental illness can be uncomfortable for both you and them. You may not know what to say, but they may be nervous about sharing with fears of judgment. 

The first thing to do before reaching out to help is to learn what you can about their mental illness. Yes, these experiences are different for everyone, but learning the basics of what they are going through can help you connect.

You can look up information online but be sure to read from trusted and accredited resources. You can also talk to anyone else you know who has been in a similar situation. If you see a therapist yourself, you can ask them for guidance about going into a conversation with a loved one about their mental illness. 

It is best to get as much information as possible. Speaking with a friend or family member about their mental illness once you've learned more about it can improve recognition of early signs of mental health problems and lead to earlier treatment, greater understanding, and compassion.

Your support can make a significant impact on their mental health and well-being. Knowing they have judgment-free support from a loved one can offer hope and encouragement to seek treatment.

When you talk to a friend or family member about mental health, it can be vulnerable for them. You want them to know that you care and want to help. You want to come from a place of love, not fear or anger. 

Try not to accuse them of anything or try to make your own diagnosis. You should be there to let them know they aren't alone, that you care, and that you are there for them without judgment. 

Let them know you are worried about them. Offer to be a sounding board only if they are comfortable. Remind them that there is help available to them and that you are happy to assist them in finding a doctor or treatment center. You can also offer to research with them, so they don't feel so alone.

If you're unsure of how to help, simply ask them what they need at this time. They may just want company or someone to be with. Accept where they are now. Listen to their responses. 

You may have done your research, but you can't force them to make a choice or seek further help. Just be there for them however they need. You aren't a mental health professional, no matter how much you've learned. 

You can encourage your loved one to seek further treatment. You can let them know how it has helped you or someone else you know,  but it is ultimately their choice. Keep checking in. If you don't hear from them for a while or notice signs of depression or anxiety, ask them how they're doing. 

Supporting a Loved One Coping With a Mental Illness

Beyond speaking with a loved one struggling with a mental illness, there are other things you can do to help them through this.

Don't treat them like they are sick. They're the same person that you have always cared about. Continue to invite them when you go out or have people over. They may not always come, but they appreciate that you want them there.

Even if they decide to seek treatment, don't assume they've been cured. Recovering from mental illness is a long-term struggle. Continue to check in with them and ask how they're doing. Celebrate their wins with them. Be optimistic about their growth and try not to be annoyed or impatient if they come to a standstill in their recovery. This is normal. 

The US Department of Health & Human Services reminds friends and family members of those struggling with mental health issues to listen to ideas and be responsive when the topic of mental health comes up.

Do not put the weight of your loved one's recovery on your shoulders. Their health is not your responsibility. 

You should also set boundaries. Even though your loved one may not have full control over their actions, it doesn't make it OK for them to mistreat you. 

If they abuse your kindness by expecting your help 24/7 or become verbally or physically abusive, it is perfectly alright to shut things down. Your safety is the priority. You can't help anyone if you are at risk. Even with that, you can remain supportive by offering to be there when they are open to help. 

Helping A Loved One Face A Mental Illness Is Admirable … But Also A Big Job

Committing yourself to a friend who needs your support can greatly impact their recovery and treatment. Being a confidant and friend puts you in a position of aid. You can encourage them to seek professional help, guide them through finding that help, and even participate if they feel comfortable.

If their mental illness is connected to a substance abuse disorder (known as a co-occurring condition, or a dual diagnosis), looking into holistic substance abuse care is critical. can help you find a detox center which meets your loved one’s needs. Start searching today!

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