How to help those you love who are struggling with their mental health

Watching a loved one in emotional pain can feel exceptionally overwhelming, especially when we are unsure of how to help them. Supporting our loved ones through their mental health journey is rarely a linear process, and it may even feel frustrating at times with feelings of helplessness. Below are a few guidelines to assist you when supporting those you love through their struggles.

Identify The Early Signs and Symptoms: People have different ways of dealing with difficult situations; however, it is important to ensure our coping skills do not cause further harm. Be on the lookout for signs of self-neglect, social withdrawal, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and a decrease in performance or energy levels affecting both personal and professional responsibilities.  Notice if they have become pessimistic and critical about themselves and the world, if they are having emotional breakdowns and anger outbursts, or if there are any changes in their appetite or sleep patterns. 

Active Listening: People often suppress their emotions and bottle up what it is going on until they no longer can. The best we can do is listen attentively, even if that means sitting in silence; listen and observe what makes them isolate or withdraw, what causes their anger or sadness, and what may bring a brief smile to their face.

Appreciate Them: Recognize the little progress they make and appreciate them constantly, showering them with words of encouragement and affirmation. Avoid commenting on any change of appearance, e.g., changes in weight, facial expression, etc., as this may be triggering for them. 

Psycho-Educate Yourself: It is essential to help them feel understood and a great way of doing this is to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms so that you can attune to them. Those struggling often find it difficult to articulate what is going on or how they are feeling; you having the words from your research can feel incredibly validating and supportive.

Plan Activities to Help them Distract Their Mind: Your loved ones may not need help to solve their problems but may need your presence so that they know they are not alone. You can be there for them in a subtle ways by planning something intimate, for example a movie night with takeaway food, so they can take a break without being expected to interact with people.

Respect Their Boundaries: You may feel like they want to be left alone; they may fear burdening you with their struggles or may not have the energy to interact. However, that does not mean they do not need you to be there. During this time, you can write them notes that they can read silently without being vulnerable. Leave small messages or reminders to let them know that when they are ready you will be there.  

Avoid Toxic Positivity: Being hopeful is good but avoid forcing them to see the positive side when they are suffering. Do not mention statements like ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘others have it worse’. Instead, acknowledge that what they are going through is valid and that you are there to support them however they may need it.

Provide Practical Support: Notice the areas where they may need your help, whether with household chores, looking after a family member, or grocery shopping. Taking on chores and relieving those struggling can be incredibly helpful for them.

Self-Care: To ensure that your mental health is not impacted in this process, take self-care breaks to recharge yourself by indulging in activities that relax your mind, including reading, listening to music, and walking. Remember that your mental health also matters. A few books I find extremely helpful are “Love in the Time of Chronic Illness: How to Fight the Sickness―Not Each Other by Barbara Kivowitz” and “When Someone You Love Has a Chronic Illness: Hope and Help for Those Providing Support by Tamara McClintock.”

Call to Action: It is essential to realize your limitations and when you can no longer help your loved one in their mental health journey. Connecting them to a professional at the earliest is often the most effective help you can provide. Connecting them to a support group of others struggling can be a very validating and helpful resource of support. You can also contact us at https://serengetiwellness.comm/ to get your loved one started with their own therapist that will be able to guide them through their wellness recovery.


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