Ways to help a loved one with mental illess
When your spouse or child, parent or friend has the flu, you know exactly what to do. Pump fluids, give them their med’s, keep the fever down. But what about a loved one that has a mental sickness? Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so routine. It’s confusing when they’re not acting like themselves and you don’t know what’s wrong or how to help.
Take comfort in understanding that although you may not be able to “see’ the illness, you can still help. In fact, research shows that support from family and friends is a key part of helping someone with mental illness. Here’s what you can do.
Know the warning signs
Not every change in behavior necessarily means it’s a mental illness, it could be related to other issues. Serious mental health problems tend to have a negative impact on their overall ability to study, work or relate to others. Of course, suicidal thoughts or talk about harming others need immediate attention.
Some other indicators are:
- Sleep or appetite changes, dramatic weight gain or loss
Mood swings, withdrawal or apathy
Drop in normal functioning
Increased sensitivity to stimuli
Illogical or unusual thinking, extreme nervousness
Reporting hearing voices or having unusual thoughts
Feeling sick all the time
Heavy drinking or drug use
Approach the problem
The biggest challenge here might be just starting the conversation--it’s awkward, you don’t know exactly the right things to say and you assume the other person is going to be defensive. Ease into the conversation gradually, respectfully, compassionately. Express your concern. Show patience and above all, don’t be judgmental.
Remind them that asking for help is actually a sign of strength, not weakness. After all, if they were physically sick, they would seek medical care. Give your loved one the hope for recovery and the pledge of your support.
Here’s a great list of things NOT to say or do. Familiarize yourself with these before you start!
Learn more and provide support
A recent review found that when the family is educated about the illness, the rate of relapse was reduced by half in the first year! An easy way to learn more about mental illnesses is to visit the MHRS website and sign up for our newsletter. We’re here to help.
Supporting your loved ones can come in two ways: 1) Practical, and 2) Emotional:
- Practical Support- you can help them remember to take their medications or remind them about their counselling homework or to keep appointments for treatment. If they have problems with medication side effects, you can suggest they write them down so they can discuss with their doctor. If they don’t care for their doctor, you can help them find a new one. You can also help them stay healthy by keeping an eye on their eating, exercise and sleeping habit
Emotional Support comes in the form of helping your loved one feel less alone and ashamed. They are not to blame for their illness, but they may feel that they are, or may be getting that message from others. You can help encourage hope in their heart that they will recover.
Helping a mentally ill person can be stressful and emotionally exhausting. Remember that you need emotional support, too. Consider joining a support group for family members of people with mental illness. It’s important that you are taking care of your mental health as well as your loved one’s.