#mentalhealth is something that we all have and deal with, and it can shift from healthier to less healthy throughout our lifetime. When we are struggling with our mental health, it does not mean that we have a #mentalillness per se, but it does mean that we can take steps to become mentally healthier.
Many of us will have a loved one or someone close to us that will struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives. While we can not ‘fix’ what is going on for them, we can provide support to help them cope and manage with the challenges that they are experiencing.
I wrote this article to outline how to support someone struggling with their mental health and also to highlight what you can do in order to take care of your mental health needs along the way. Please feel free to share this within your own social networks.
1. Listen without judgement – Nobody has chosen to struggle with their mental health. It is an often invisible struggle that can leave people feeling isolated and scared to open up due to the stigma. Do not offer advice, but rather hold space for someone to share what they are going through.
2. Validate – When you are holding space for someone to feel heard, it is equally as important that they feel understood and validated. You can validate someone by using active listening techniques such as giving undivided attention (no phones or distractions), giving verbal responses that show you are listening, asking clarifying questions that are curious and not directive or judgmental like: how can I support you? What would be helpful from me? As opposed to: What do you want me to do about it? Have you tried…? If all you do is validate someone, you are already providing a lot.
3. Educate yourself – Find reputable and professional resources for information on mental health in general or the mental illness that your loved one is managing. #camh, #cmha, or a #mentalhealthfirstaid course can all provide good insight. Or consider seeing a #therapist for your own emotional health.
4. Be patient – Mental illness does not come on overnight, so it is unrealistic for it to be worked through quickly. Find ways to provide #patience and #support throughout the process.
5. Take care of yourself - #selfcare is imperative.
Taking care of your needs and ensuring that you remain as mentally healthy as possible is equally important as supporting your loved one. Think of it as the oxygen mask on the airplane; you can take a deep breath and help everyone else with their mask and suffocate, or you can ensure that you are fitting your own mask first so that you can be as fulsome a support as possible.
Number 5 is extremely important and is worth expanding on and exploring more deeply. You are not helpful to anyone else if you are not stable yourself. Check out the tips below from CMHA with additions from my own professional experience.
1. Accept your own feelings and know that you are not alone
It is natural to feel many different emotions when a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness. Other people experience the same challenges and complicated mix of emotions, just like you. Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel. It can feel overwhelming to take on someone else’s feelings and it is also not your job to do so. Work on providing empathy (feeling with) as opposed to sympathy (feeling for).
2. Learn more
Take time to learn more about mental illnesses. This will give you a better understanding of your loved one’s experiences and help you see what they may be going through. You can find reliable information online, through provincial or territorial health services, and through community organizations. Toronto has resources like #CMHA (also National) and #CAMH that can provide support to families and loved ones as well as seeking a professional through your benefits or in the community to work through what you are experiencing.
3. Stay connected
Embarrassment, social stigma, and fear can stop many family members from seeking help when a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness. But that can isolate you at a time when you need the most support from others. Talk to trusted friends and family and let them know what you’re experiencing. If you aren’t sure where to go, try connecting with a community organization. Find those that listen without judgement and will not try to ‘fix’ the issue.
4. Join a support group
Support groups are a good place to share your experiences, learn from others, and connect with people who understand what you’re going through. To find a local support group, contact a local community mental health organization like CMHA to learn about services that can help.
5. Take time for yourself
If you are caring for a loved one, your responsibilities may use up your physical and emotional energy. It’s important to take time for yourself. It can help you recharge and give you a more balanced perspective toward any challenges you experience. Schedule opportunities that allow you to relax, have fun and get away so you can come back to your loved one with a healthier outlook. You can’t care for someone else if you haven’t cared for yourself first. Self care is as unique as each person. What are things that you do that allow you to feel calmness or relief of stress? Work to add those activities into your life on a regular basis.
6. Seek help for yourself
Caring for a loved one who’s unwell can be stressful. Long periods of stress can lead to mental health or substance use problems. Seek help if you find your own well-being slipping, and encourage family members to seek help if they need it. Mental illness can also have a big impact on family relationships. It’s a good idea to seek counselling for the entire family.
7. Develop coping strategies for challenging behaviours
There may be times when a loved one shows strange or challenging behaviours that can make you feel confused, embarrassed, or scared. This can happen in public or in private. It’s best to talk with your loved one’s care team for strategies to manage challenging situations. It can be helpful to talk about these with your loved one and a professional in order to Learn more about your options, Plan the best strategies for the situation, Understand that this is not personal, Realize that some behaviours may be beyond your loved one’s control. They may be as distressing to them as they are to you.
It’s also important to tell your loved one (and their care team) what behaviours you aren’t willing to tolerate. You have rights, too—you never have to tolerate dangerous or abusive behaviour.
By supporting yourself and your loved one with their mental health, you can find ways to live a full and enriching life with mental illness. If you wish to discuss your situation or understand what seeing a psychotherapist may provide, do not hesitate to contact me directly.