Knowing that someone you love is struggling with mental health is not easy. It takes a lot out of someone to deal with their own illness and ask for help, but it also takes a lot out of their loved ones to support them. It takes time, energy and one’s own mental health to provide support to a loved one struggling with mental health. So how can you safely and correctly support a loved one without jeopardizing your own mental health?
Understand exactly what they are struggling with
What does anxiety or depression typically look like for them? Anxiety and depression manifests differently in everyone who has it, so it is crucial to gear your support towards the specific person and their specific illness. What are their symptoms? What happens on a bad day for them? What happens on a good day? No matter how much research you do on anxiety/depression and how it presents, no one knows their illness better than them. Don’t be afraid to ask them what their illness is like for them specifically. This will let them know that you are committed to supporting them and will allow them to feel comfortable seeking support from you.
Ask what type of support they need
Anxiety and depression can have both emotional and physical effects on someone struggling with the illnesses. So, ask them what type of support they need – emotional or physical?
Emotional support: For some struggling with anxiety and depression, they need to be able to feel like they can talk about what they are feeling safely without being judged. Provide that emotional space for them to talk about their illness. When they need emotional support, ask them if they need advice, or if they just need a listening ear.It makes all the difference in the world to someone struggling with anxiety/depression to know that whoever they are talking to knows what they need out of the conversation and, in turn, helps them feel comfortable talking about it openly.
Physical support: Anxiety and depression can also manifest itself physically. They could be neglecting their hygiene, their physical space, their eating and exercise habits, etc. Look and see if you notice anything that may have been neglected and encourage them to take care of it, and even help them if they need it. If they have been neglecting their immediate surroundings, offer to help them clean up. If they have been neglecting eating, help them cook a healthy meal and sit down to eat it with them. If they haven’t been out of the house in a few days, encourage them to take a walk or just step outside to get the mail. Even the smallest movement can make a big difference.
Don’t make them feel embarrassed or ashamed for struggling
No one likes admitting that they have a mental illness. It is difficult in itself to know you have an illness but admitting it to others takes a different type of strength. So, if a loved one comes to you and tells you that they are struggling with anxiety/depression, be mindful of your language. Avoid telling them things like “Everyone feels that way,” “It could be worse,” or “We’ve all been there.” Phrases like this minimize the importance of their illness and contribute to harmful personal stigma surrounding mental health. Instead, use phrases such as “Thank you for opening up to me,” “How can I support you?” and “I am here for you when you need me.” These phrases let them know that you heard them and that you will not judge them for asking for help.
Take care of your own mental health
It can be triggering to some people to hear that a loved one is struggling with their mental health. So, as important as it is to support them in their own recovery, it is also important to know your own limits and what your mental health can take. Let your own support system know when you are struggling and don’t be afraid to set your own boundaries. Participate in your own forms of self-care and recognize that your mental health is just as important as everyone else’s.
Know that you are doing enough
Progress in mental health does not happen overnight, and it is a rollercoaster – full of ups and downs, twists and turns, and just when you think it’s coming to a stop, it flings you backwards. You have to be patient and understand that however you are supporting them, you are doing enough and they just appreciate having someone there for them who will love them and support them unconditionally as they navigate their mental health. It can be difficult to stay positive when you are not seeing any progress, but over time you will start to notice the little things. Believe in them and believe in yourself that you are doing the right thing.
When in doubt, if you notice that someone you love is struggling with their mental health, ask them what they need. If it is more than you feel you can handle, offer to help them find professional resources, and continue to support them through that journey.
This blog was written by Kayla Pray, a clinician at Community Reach Center.