How to Support a Loved One's Mental Health

By Vanessa Kensing, LMSW

As a current or prospective client of Cobb Psychotherapy you may in interested in therapy to address your own anxiety, depression, and/or life stressors. Or you may be thinking about entering into therapy for support around helping a friend, family, or romantic partner that suffers from their own mental health concerns. Because supporting a loved one who has mental health issues can be complex, this article explores how to be of service to others while also taking care of yourself. 

Education

One of the most important part of providing assistance is understanding what is going on. Therefore obtaining education about the symptoms, subtypes of a particular disorder, causes, diagnosis, and treatment can be very helpful. The National Alliance for Mental Illness offer “Fact Sheets” for many common mental health issues that are an amazing resource. They can be found here, by scrolling halfway down the page: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Fact-Sheet-Library. Likewise, countless books and articles can be found at your local bookstore or online. Be mindful however of authorship and where information is being drawn from to ensure you are getting the right information. 

Education and understanding are also the hallmarks of empathy. Therefore when we understand what our loved one is going through we can truly empathize with their situation. In doing so we create a safe place where they can share their experiences and needs. 

Communication

Because of stigma associated with mental health, communicating effectively is important. It is possible that those suffering feel guilt and shame around their issues so being mindful of oppressive, judgmental, and critical language is important. Also it is important to focus on having a genuine dialogue with your loved one, not a debate about what they “should do,” and not forcing a label upon them. 

Boundary Setting

While we may want to take control when someone we love is suffering, it is important that they make decisions around their care themselves. Accepting the limits of your support and encouragement will help you be a resource to your loved one, and keep you from burning out and/or building resentment against them.  

Self Care and Support

Self care is about listening to what your mind, body, and soul are in need of. When we are caring for others, it is easy to forget about ourselves. However, if we are depleted we cannot truly support someone else. Self care is personal and therefore looks different from person to person. Some people feel restored by quiet time or a quick nap, while others are restored by spending time with others. If you aren’t sure what of what you need, here is a list of ways to support your own mind, body and soul:

  • meditation
  • make a gratitude list
  • do something on your to-do list that you’ve been avoiding
  • spend time in nature
  • unplug from your phone and computer for an hour
  • deep breathing
  • yoga
  • have a good laugh
  • spend some time in the sun
  • make connection with your community
  • spend time with animals
  • prayer 

The National Alliance for Mental Illness also offer peer run support groups. You can find the group nearest you by going to: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/NAMI-Family-Support-Group

Vanessa Kensing is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking to explore further how to support someone you love please contact Cobb Psychotherapy. If you or someone you live is at risk of harming themselves or others please seek out emergency services.