5 Ways to Support Someone Dealing with Mental Illness (article featured in The Tennessean)
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It permeates/pervasive through each socioeconomic level, gender, age, and culture. It’s common knowledge that it is incredibly difficult to suffer from any “set” of psychological symptoms. Suicide and depression have become popular topics that have received much warranted attention. What isn’t talked about quite as often is the secondary burden and emotional toll experienced by the loved ones of those who have such symptoms. It’s incredibly difficult to watch a loved one suffer, and even harder to know how to provide them some reprieve from the disorder.
If you are providing support for someone who is suffering, remember the following tips:
Acknowledge that you aren’t an expert. Fortunately, there are trained professionals who can help you navigate a relationship with someone who has a mental illness. Of course, the person suffering needs treatment. But, counseling will also prove helpful for loved ones who are providing support. Also, take the onus off of yourself to make the person “better.” Just like any medical illness, there are specific treatments and medications that are useful in treating psychological symptoms. You don’t need to take on the responsibility of healing the person, nor should you.
Don’t enable them. There is such a fine line between loving and enabling, and often it’s difficult to toe that line. Provide support, encouragement, and information. But, don’t become the caretaker, the financial provider, and/or the emotional punching bag. Know how to define and implement healthy boundaries. Sometimes loving someone is requiring that they get help in order to continue in a relationship with you.
Listen, listen, listen. Often those who are suffering aren’t looking for you to provide answers. If they express intense emotions and triggers to you, simply listen. They aren’t necessarily looking to be “fixed,” but rather need a space to open up and problem solve. Do suggest that they get help but don’t act as if you have the solutions.
Don’t minimize. If someone expresses to you that he/she is experiencing emotional pain, don’t assume that the problem is fleeting or that there won’t be extreme consequences. Suicide is a very real reaction to depressive symptoms that become too intense for a person to endure. Seemingly happy people may be quietly suffering, and if they share this with you, take heed.
Take action. For you and for them. Facilitate treatment for a person by helping them set up an appointment with a therapist. Collaboratively work find a counselor with whom they can work. And, identify a counselor for yourself. It may take a few sessions to find a counselor that fits with a person’s personality and needs, so don’t become discouraged if an appointment doesn’t go well.
Recovery is a process. Some will be in recovery for a lifetime and, depending on the diagnosis, symptoms may wax and wane. As someone who acting as a support, know the importance of your role in the person’s life. Sometimes mental illness prevents people from having insight and being able to express gratitude for those who are loving and supporting them. It can be taxing to be a passenger on their journey, but the support you provide is invaluable.