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How to Help a Loved One with Mental Illness

Mental Health Center of San Diego

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How to Help a Loved One with Mental Illness

If someone you love is dealing with mental illness, you know first hand the kind of helplessness you can feel. How do you go about helping someone who is dealing with something so personal and hard? It can be difficult to know what to do or say.

The good news is that you’re not alone. One out of every five adults in the United States deals with mental illness. That’s why we created this resource to show you how to support someone with mental illness. Keep reading to learn more.

The Reality of Mental Illness

A mental illness is a sickness that can change the way someone feels, thinks, and behaves. These illnesses can range in severity from simple anxiety and depression to more severe schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The causes for each of these illnesses vary and the treatments are different depending on a variety of factors.

One thing that doesn’t change is their need for support from people around them.

It can be difficult or even scary, but it’s important that you keep in mind that these disorders can be treated. Folks with mental illnesses live fulfilling, happy lives once they’ve found treatment and help.

helping a loved one with mental illness

Encourage Them to Seek Help

The most important thing you can do is encourage them to seek help. Mental illness may seem obvious to friends and family on the outside, but often to the people living with it every day, it’s hard to see.

If you’ve noticed these signs in someone you love, stay calm. The best thing you can do is encourage them to find help from a trained professional.

The stigma around mental health is a touchy subject for many. It may be difficult to know the best way to approach the topic. Don’t use frightening language or place blame on your loved one.

Something as simple as “I’ve noticed you seem more upset than usual” can go a long way. You could also try something like “I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself lately.” Back up your statements with facts while being gentle.
It’s important that your loved one knows the only goal is to help them feel better.

The Pitfalls of Toxic Positivity

One way we often try to help our loved ones is by being positive. There is certainly something to be said for the power of positive thinking! But for people who have a mental illness, this mindset can sometimes do more harm than good.

Toxic positivity is the assumption that, no matter what someone is going through, they should always have a positive, happy outlook. Rather than supporting optimism, it minimizes and denies real problems that mentally ill people face every day.

So while you think that your “just smile about it!” attitude is helping, it could be doing a real disservice to someone who is clinically depressed. Unfortunately, they have a chemical imbalance that makes that nearly impossible.

The last thing they need is to be reminded of it.

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Understand Stigma and Eliminate It

Another way that you can support someone with a mental illness is to understand the stigma that surrounds it. Luckily, this mindset is starting to change as another generation comes of age. They are challenging the idea that admitting you have a problem is a weakness.

You can help with this as well. Remember that a mental illness is only different from a physical illness in terms of the way it is treated.

There is nothing wrong or shameful about seeking help and treatment. Be open about your own struggles and willing to discuss things if your loved one is interested.

What Not to Say

There are a few things you should stay away from mentioning. We’ve already discussed steering clear of toxic positivity. Another thing to avoid is comparing your own struggles with theirs.

We often say “I know how you feel” as a way to relate and show support. In the moment, the statement can feel minimizing and dismissive.  Every person is different. You don’t know how they feel. You can’t, and that’s okay!

Instead, take time to listen and understand your loved one. Be a source of strength and compassion. Spend your time together learning how to be a good friend and listener.

How to Support Someone with Mental Illness

There are a ton of things that you can do to help someone who is dealing with a mental health crisis.

While you should never put your own health at risk, being a source of strength and support during a mental health crisis can make all the difference.

The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care is a buzzword used a lot nowadays. But it’s a critically important part of our lives that we often neglect!

Remind your loved ones that taking care of themselves needs to be a priority. Sometimes this means that it’s okay to spend the day in bed with a book, blocking out the world for a while. Other times, it means showering and brushing your teeth in the morning even if you feel like you can’t get out of bed.

This is especially important for people with mental illness. It’s so easy to forget to take care of ourselves when our minds aren’t healthy.

Your Support Makes a Difference

Now that you know how to support someone with mental illness, you can confidently reach out to your friends and family who are suffering. Your support can make all the difference in someone’s life.

At the Mental Health Center of San Diego, we are here to help.  Our variety of treatments for mental health disorders can help you feel happier or less overwhelmed in life.    

For more information about mental health and wellness, contact us today.