As National Mental Illness Awareness Week is acknowledged October 3 to October 9, a loved one who lives with a mental health condition may be on your mind. Given the fact that almost one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness, a significant portion of the population is likely to be affected by this awareness week. As the nation addresses mental illness with events like universal days of prayer, you may be wondering what you can do to help a loved one in your life as they navigate the challenges of living with a mental health disorder. Consider the five tips below.
Ask How You Can Help, But Understand It May Not Be Well Received
Sometimes, it’s best not to assume that you know what your loved one needs from you. Instead, ask them specifically what you can do to help. Could they use a nonjudgmental ear to listen to their struggles? Someone to accompany them to appointments at a mental health clinic? If your loved one is ready for help, they will tell you what it is that they need. That being said, you should be prepared for them to push you away if you ask to help, and you shouldn’t take this personally. Someone who has a mental illness may be struggling with their own anxiety, fear, and feelings of shame, and rejecting your offers of help may be a defense mechanism. Your loved one is not likely to be receptive to you if you force them to accept your assistance, but if you gently mention your willingness to help, they may come around over time, even if they initially shut down your offer of support.
Be Mindful of Their Triggers and Limitations
Individuals who live with mental illnesses have symptoms that interfere with daily functioning in areas such as work and relationships, so your loved one is likely to have certain limitations. For instance, someone with depression may have difficulty concentrating or finding happiness in their usual activities, so asking them to take the lead in planning a party or spend significant amounts of time socializing can be a bit overwhelming. Individuals with mental health conditions may also have certain triggers. Someone with social anxiety may be triggered by spending time in crowds, whereas someone with post-traumatic stress disorder may find certain events or locations to be triggering. It’s important to be respectful of your loved one’s limitations, even if they seem trivial, because for someone with a mental health condition, these limitations and triggers are very real, and are not a fabrication or a sign of weakness.
It’s not fair or helpful to your loved one for you to discuss their mental health condition when they are not around. They may not want to share their mental health status with others, and quite honestly, their story is not yours to tell. If they’re comfortable discussing their mental health in a group with others, they have a right to decide to do so, but you should never share things with others that they have told you in confidence, especially when they are not present to tell their side of the story. In the worst case, if you discuss your loved one’s mental health condition behind their back, they may find out, causing them to develop distrust for you and avoid coming to you in the future.
Educate Yourself About Mental Illness
Part of helping your loved one is understanding what they are going through, and a little education about mental illness can allow you to empathize with their situation and be as supportive as possible. Find as much reputable reading material as you can about mental illness, or consider attending a support group for family members, so you can learn more about mental health conditions. Education can also help you to understand some of the common myths surrounding mental illness, such as the misconception that individuals with mental illness are violent, incapable of working, or somehow weak. Learning the truth about mental illnesses, such as the fact that they can be caused by genetics, illness, or brain imbalances, also equips you with the knowledge to advocate for your loved one.
Be Prepared to Intervene if Needed
In many instances, it is beneficial to offer support to your loved one, while being prepared to back down if they are not receptive to help. On the other hand, if your loved one’s mental illness is beginning to severely impact their life, it may be time to be a little more assertive. For example, if they have sunken deeply into a depression, and they are no longer caring for themselves, you may need to help them get into treatment. If your loved one’s mental health symptoms are so significant that you begin to worry about their wellbeing, you may have to consider intervening. This may involve sitting down with them, perhaps alongside other family members, and expressing your concern. It is critical that you avoid being judgmental or placing the blame on your loved one. Instead, be prepared to express that you care about your loved one’s best interests, and list specific behaviors or signs that have concerned you and led you to believe that therapy or treatment is warranted.
If your loved one is living with a mental illness and is in need of treatment in Santa Barbara or another Southern California location, Mission Harbor is here to help. We offer convenient outpatient services in multiple levels of care, including partial hospitalization programing, intensive outpatient services, and an outpatient program for teens. We are qualified to treat a variety of mental and behavioral health conditions, including depression, trauma, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders. Contact our admissions team today for a 100% confidential call to learn more.