I think the most important thing to note first is that someone else’s mental wellbeing cannot be entirely your responsibility. With that said, there are definitely some ways to support and care for loved ones who are struggling with mental illness. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for supporting loved ones struggling with mental illness. It’ll depend on you and the person you care about.
Learn as much as you can about their symptoms or, if they’ve been diagnosed, their diagnosis. Do some research of your own and talk to them about their perspective.At Drishti, we often work with family units and supports to help not only our client but the people who care about our client! Understanding what they’re going through is super important. Some great resources to look at are NAMI and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Be patient and encouraging. Getting better can take time, and that’s okay. Be patient, present, and understanding of their experience. You can also encourage them to be independent and actively participating in their healing.
Look after yourself too. Make sure you’re making time to look after yourself and your own wellbeing. It can be emotionally and practically difficult to care for someone else, even if they don’t struggle with mental illness. Caring for yourself can look like: setting boundaries, staying active, getting enough sleep, journaling, seeing a therapist of your own, and other self-care activities.
Sometimes we stay away from someone struggling for fear of saying the wrong thing or triggering them further. But this can leave them feeling even more isolated and alone in their struggles. Sometimes simply just being there, in silence, is the best thing we can do. Showing support by simply showing up is powerful and helpful.
Don’t be afraid to ask them what they would find helpful or what they need. A home cooked meal, a morning wake up text -- you never know what little things can help them feel OK about moving about the world.
Last, and perhaps most important, a mental illness and how someone experiences it may not make sense to you. It might not seem rational or ‘normal,’ but a caregiver must not minimize or dismiss what someone is going through. Remember, we all have parts we’ve built over the years and the goal of treatment isn’t to change who we are, but rather to find what helps us feel the best. Someone else’s struggle doesn’t need to make sense to you - only them. And, always, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or out of your depth, don’t be afraid to call in the experts for help. It takes a village and we are here to support you.