Supporting Someone with a Mental Health Problem – Part 3

Research shows support from family and friends can be vital in helping someone recover from a mental illness, but it can be difficult to always know how best to help. Like with any other illness, this is a time when the person requires extra care and support, but how can you help with something you can’t see? Fortunately, while mental illnesses are invisible, the affects you can have are not. There are many things you can do to support a family member, friend, co-worker, or other person in your life on their journey toward recovery.

    • Educate yourself about mental health and the signs of potential problems.
      Signs that someone may be experiencing mental health problems include sleeping too much or too little, sudden changes in appetite, an inability to find pleasure in things they used to love, having low energy, talking or moving more slowly than usual, unexplained aches and pains, feeling helpless or hopeless, and eating, drinking, smoking, or using drugs more than usual.
    • Talk to the person about your concerns.
      While it may feel uncomfortable, it’s important to not ignore mental health problems and you should be aware that much of the time, a person experiencing a mental health problem won’t ask for help, due to feelings such as hopelessness or worthlessness. There’s a common misconception that talking about mental illness will just make the person feel worse, but this is generally untrue. Most people desperately want someone to talk to, but don’t feel able to ask.That being said, sometimes a person might not be at the point where they’re ready to talk. In that case, just letting them know you’re willing and able to listen can make a huge difference.
    • Be respectful, compassionate, and empathetic to their feelings with reflective listening.
      Repeat what they have said back to them to ensure you have understood it. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but by showing you understand how they feel and not arguing or second guessing what they’ve said, you are letting them know you respect their feelings.
    • Talk about well-being and ask whether there’s something that helps them.
      Things like working out, going outside, or talking with a therapist can be helpful. Be careful not to be patronizing, though. Sometimes offering advice can be helpful, but sometimes it can come across as if someone has just told you to slap a band-aid on a bullet wound. Always make sure to ask if they’d like suggestions before offering any.
    • Ask what you can do.
      The main thing you can do most of the time is just be there, but sometimes you can help in more physical ways like relieving some work or life pressures. Doing a load of laundry, grocery shopping, or babysitting are all easy ways you can help show your support.
    • Anticipate barriers.
      It’s not always easy to access mental support services. Doing the research to find a doctor who takes your insurance can be a nightmare even for mentally healthy people. It might be an impassible barrier for someone who is mentally ill. If possible, help the person by doing research for them on local treatment options, transportation to appointments, and other related issues.
    • Take care of yourself.
      Just like in an airplane, where they tell you to take care of your own air bag before helping others with theirs, make sure you’re taking care of your own mental health while helping others. Make sure you have your own support system and do everything you can to care for yourself, even if this means you must set up boundaries about how much you’re able and willing to do.
    • Know you are needed and appreciated, even if it seems that you are not.
      Sometimes mental illness causes people to push others away or say things that aren’t meant. Try not to take anything personally and keep reaching out. This doesn’t mean you should allow someone to abuse or take advantage of you, but keep in mind that your loved one is sick and in pain, and answer with love and understanding.

These are only a handful of things you can do to help someone with mental health problems. I highly recommend you check out the included sources for much more information about the topic.

Next week, I want to focus on some self-care strategies and ways you can take care of your own mental health.

If you’re struggling with your own mental health right now, please reach out to someone who cares for you or call (607) 737-5369 for 24/7 community mental health crisis service.

Hannah Page
Steele Memorial Library