Supporting a Friend or a Family Member with Mental Illness

Nearly 1 in 5 US adults are currently living with a mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health). With these staggering statistics, it’s likely we all know at least one friend or family member who is struggling with some type of mental illness. Recent media has urged individuals to encourage loved ones to get help, but what is the proper way to do this? It is easy to make the wrong comment or suggestion, resulting in a trigger for the individual and lessening the chances of them seeking the help they need.

Here are some clear tips on how to encourage a loved one who is struggling with mental health.

1. Validation, Validation, Validation

The way we address our loved ones is vital in the intervention process. As a supporter, you may have your own inferences or preconceived notions into your loved ones feelings, or you may hold resentment towards their illness due to the impact it has caused on you which can lead to invalidation. Phrases like, “Things aren’t that bad”, “Stop looking for attention” or “Why don’t you just snap out of it” may be your knee jerk reaction; however, these phrases can cause detrimental harm to your loved one. Invalidating another’s perspective or point of view sends the message that you either A) you do not believe your loved one or B) you do not care about the reality your loved one is experiencing. Instead try phrases like “It sounds like you’re struggling, what can I do to help” or simply “I don’t even know what to say right now. I just want you to know I’m here”. These are safer and much easier alternatives. Validating your loved ones reality is more likely to encourage them to get the help they need in the long run.

2. Show Up and Be Present

Living with mental illness can fathom serious feelings of loneliness. Decreased self-worth can make it very difficult for your loved one to reach out in time of crisis. Showing up, even if you aren’t invited is a good way to continue to show your support to your loved one. Checking in, sending food or messages, or simply saying you are here when they are ready will help encourage your loved one to open up. When they are ready to reach out for help, provide support by researching therapists together or even sitting in for that first initial call to set an appointment can be helpful.

3. Be Aware of Signs of Suicide

Suicide is largely preventable. It’s important as a loved one that you take all words of death seriously. Even if it is presented in a joking manner, many times this can be an early signs a crisis may occur. Ask follow up questions about their comment, and do not leave the person alone if they are reporting an active plan to harm themselves. You can encourage your loved one to contact national help lines such as 1-800-273-TALK. If you still feel your loved one is unsafe after attempting de escalation tactics you can contact the local police department and ask for the crisis intervention team. If necessary, they can issue a voluntary or involuntary hospitalization for the safety of your loved one. In the state of Florida this is called a Baker Act. Don’t hesitate. Make sure to verbalize that this is what is done when a loved one’s life is in danger for their safety.

4. You Are Not Responsible for Your Loved One’s Recovery

After the recent tragedies, many people are looking to help in some way. Even if you follow all the guidance provided above, you may still be frustrated that your loved one does not follow through with recommendations to receive therapeutic services. It’s important as a support person to not take on the burden of your loved one’s recovery. At the end of the day, therapy is hard work! The motivation to get better must be present in the client for results to come about. This may mean loved ones will go through the process for weeks, months, even years until one is finally ready to begin their journey to healing. Be patient and continue validation strategies until they come to the decision to get help. Keep reiterating, “When your ready, I’m here for you”.

If you or someone you love is looking for therapeutic services in the Palm Beach County area contact Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786 for a free consultation today.

Leave a Reply