How to Support Someone Experiencing Mental Health Challenges
With at least one in four people globally expected to suffer from a mental disorder, there’s a good chance that many of us will experience mental health challenges at some point in life. This also means that our friends, partners, family members, co-workers, and other people in our sphere will likely experience them at some point too – and it can be really tough to witness the people we care about struggle. It can be even harder to know how to help them – sometimes it can feel like we’re doing all the wrong things. Here are some tips for anyone who is trying to be supportive for someone going through difficult times with their mental health.
1. Do some (mindful) research
Whether it’s a partner with an anxiety disorder, a friend dealing with post-partum depression, a sibling processing an ADHD diagnosis, or something else that your loved one is reckoning with, do some research on trusted platforms. But don’t use it to throw statistics at them, or “fixes”, or explain their own challenges to them. Do this simply to deepen your own understanding of what they are going through.
2. Be patient
Mental health challenges need time. Your loved one might be behaving in ways that are out of character, or you might feel a disconnection from them, which is difficult and confusing. But trust that they will come back to you. Keep sending them memes, distract them with stories from your job or cool things you’ve seen or read about. Remain consistent in your own behavior so they know you’ll continue to be a safe space – which is all they truly need from you.
3. Trust them
The only person that can work through and manage your loved one’s mental health challenge is them. It’s important that you trust them to do that and accept their journey. Be careful not to overstep their boundaries or meddle in their journey. Be there with them when they want you to be, but honor their space when they ask for it.
4. Give them Options
If your loved one is struggling to see people face-to-face, they might prefer to tell you how they feel through messaging or email. Give them different options to engage or communicate with you and see what works. Invite them out but make it clear there’s no obligation. Be open to changing plans, and be relaxed about timings. Make your energy as comfortable as you can for them to simply receive.
5. Just Listen
Listen actively when they tell you what is going on, how they feel, and what their concerns are. Validate all of it, don’t diminish their feelings. Ask questions and be curious – don’t try to fix the situation, but find out if there are any practical measures you could take to make things a little easier for them. Would a tidier environment help them feel more in control? Would a meal plan help them eat more regularly or in a way that would support their mental health?
6. Work on your own mental health
Supporting someone with mental health challenges isn’t easy, and will likely impact your own well-being. It’s important to take time for your own self-care and mental health practices, and give yourself space to feel what you need to. Remember that your loved one’s issues aren’t a reflection of you or your worth, but that it’s ok to feel angry, sad, or frustrated about the situation.
7. Find your own support system
When these feelings come up, it’s important to talk to someone about them. Being the support system for someone else means that you need your own support system too! Make sure you find ways to get the help you need, perhaps from a support group, a mental health hotline in your country, or by speaking to a therapist regularly.
8. Establish your boundaries
If someone else’s challenges are becoming unmanageable to you or causing extreme stress, examine where you might be giving too much. If they are over-reliant on you rather than facing up to their own challenges, then that is detrimental to both of you. You can’t pour from an empty cup. A boundary might look like them sending you voice notes to get what they’re feeling off their chest, but on the agreement that you’ll get back to them in your own time.
9. Focus on being rather than doing
The most powerful thing we can do when someone is hurt, sad, frightened, and lonely is to simply sit beside them. Know that just by being a beacon of light in the gloom, you’re doing enough.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: What Is A Mental/Psychiatric Disorder? From DSM-IV To DSM-V; The Correlation Of Social Support With Mental Health Challenges: A Meta-Analysis.
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