Good morning! Welcome to the first in a series of mine called Mental Health Monday.
My personal mental health journey and that of those around me has inspired me to do a series where I spend a few Mondays a month really focusing on some of the issues surrounding mental health, some resources from the community, and stories that will hopefully inspire and help to foster a feeling that you are not alone in this struggle.
Today’s post is for people who have someone in their life that struggles with mental illness and how you can help them. I’m writing from the position of someone with mental illness and someone who has been a caregiver. It can be incredibly difficult to watch someone you love go through dark times and these are some things I’ve learn along the way as well as thing I wish someone had done for me. Know that mental health is an ongoing struggle and your relationship with your person or people will absolutely evolve as you both gain more knowledge and learn to communicate better . Don’t be discouraged if they don’t respond to your support immediately. Many of us with mental illness have felt alone for a long time and it’s not always easy to receive help. I can’t stress enough how this is a process.
1.) Learn to be okay with them not being okay
Things aren’t always sunshine and rainbows for people with mental illnesses and some days that’s part of feeling better. Allowing yourself to feel down is some days part of the process. Know that there is no on and off switch ( I wish) and that they’re not doing this on purpose. Some days sitting under a blanket in the dark and crying is the absolute best thing we can do.
2.) When they feel up to it, talk about triggers
It’s important to know what their triggers are so you don’t make them uncomfortable by talking about things that will upset them. It’s also important to note that sometimes they may not feel comfortable talking with you about what going on. Please don’t push them to share if they feel uncomfortable. They have their reasons. The things they are going through are incredibly painful and they may not be open to sharing just yet, either to protect you or themselves from the horrible things going on in their brain. Make sure to let them know that there is a safe, judgment free place for them to talk about it if they want to. This can start to foster positive communication about what’s going on. They first need to know that you’re not going to judge them and that they can trust you. Communication will evolve with time but it starts with them knowing you’re on their team and you are always willing to listen.
3.) Offer support
This may seem obvious but make sure to offer them support in a way that is healthy and comfortable for them. It can be easy to impose what you think is best as what they need but keep in mind that they know themselves and how their feeling better than anyone else.
Offer to go with them to support groups or therapy. It can be very comforting to have a familiar face and reassuring presence in a new situation like that. At the same time keep in mind that they may want to do things on their own and that’s okay too. Make sure they know that the offer stands if they want it but that they don’t have to do it if that makes them uncomfortable
Offering to help them with some coping mechanisms can be helpful as well. Ask them if they’ll go on a walk with you or if they’d like any special treat from the store. Little things can make a big difference but again keep in mind that they may not be receptive to these things right away. Be careful not to badger them. I can’t tell you how frustrating it can be to be constantly told “oh but you should just journal or go outside.” These are helpful coping mechanisms but they take time and support to build so be there to offer help and if they say no, that’s okay.
4.) Help them look for resources/ Educate yourself
To begin to help then you need to know what’s going on. When you’re well informed not only will they be more likely to listen to what you have to say, it may give you some perspective to understand a little more of what they’re going through. Through your research you will most definitely find some resources. SHARE THEM! I know I personally felt for most of my mental health journey that I knew best all of the time but there are some really important resources that I wouldn’t have made it this far without and some of those are in direct result of loved ones looking out for me.
There are also support groups out there for caregivers that can help you process what’s going on with them and how you can help. NAMI and DBSA are both excellent groups for caregivers to get support. NAMI has separate groups for just caregivers and DBSA has mixed groups of people with mental illness and caregivers. Both formats can be useful for getting advice and since they meet once a week or once a month they can offer more in the moment help.
5.) Take Care of Yourself
I can’t stress enough how important it is to take care of yourself. You will not be able to care for someone else to the best of your abilities if you’re not functioning on your best level. Yes this sometimes means not being there for your person. That’s okay. Always remember that you come first even when you want to give everything you have to help your loved one. It’s the age old bucket story; you can’t fill other peoples’ bucket if you don’t also take time to fill your own, eventually you’ll have nothing left to give. It’s a tricky balance and it can be an uncomfortable path to find out exactly how much you are capable of giving. Check out the groups mentioned above as well if you find yourself needing some support.
6.) Be kind/ don’t be judgmental
This is another one that seem a bit obvious but bear with me. It can be difficult sometimes to realize when we aren’t taking the other person’s feelings into account. It can feel like we are when there’s something deeper going on in their mind. For many of us with mental illnesses there are a lot more things going on under the surface that we don’t always care to talk about. Think of it this way, our brains spend most of the day beating us up and the last thing we need is for other people to do it too. When you’re already in a wave of depression or anxiety little things can seem like big things because we have simply run out of fight for the day. This is one of the reasons #2 is super important, open communication is one of the best ways to avoid hurting someone you’re caring for. You’ve got to understand that life is much different with mental illness and it’s an incredible struggle.
Now once you’ve done all that….
7.) Back Off
You’ve given them an ear, a shoulder, a safe place, some resources, and most importantly some love, now give them some space to do their own work. You cannot do their work for them no matter how much you want to whisk away their pain. It’s difficult not to meddle from time to time but some days what they need is space. You’ll learn with time and as your relationship grows an evolves so for now, give it time.
I really hope this list has been helpful. Remember that this is just my experience and everyone processes a little differently so in the end its what works for you and your person/people that’s important.