While the conversation around mental health is beginning to normalize, it can still be a deeply personal issue. It’s likely that if you aren’t struggling in some way, you know someone who is. It’s important to know how to support loved ones struggling with mental health.
If you or someone you love is struggling, offer them support as you’re able and know when to refer to a professional.
For most of us, our first instinct when someone shares a problem with us is to offer advice to fix the problem. To best support loved one’s mental health, it’s important to listen first. The simple (yet hard!) act of listening assures them that they are not as alone as they feel. When you’re tempted to speak, pause. Count to five in your head and allow space for your loved one to continue sharing.
“Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.”
– Soren Kierkegaard
When you do speak, ask questions. It’s easy to give advice. It’s harder to ask great questions. Next to listening well, asking questions can be equally challenging. Practice asking open-ended questions. Open-ended questions invite dialogue and understanding. A closed-ended question provokes a yes or no answer. An example of a great open-ended question is, “What’s this experience been like for you?” You can also invite more conversation by saying, “Tell me more about that.”
Empathy represents shared understanding and it’s vital to support loved one’s mental health. It validates that what someone is feeling or experiencing is hard and you feel it, too. It’s not sympathy, which can feel like pity. Empathy builds trust and safety through a shared human experience. Simple phrases to show empathy include saying, “That must be hard” or “Thank you for sharing that with me” or “I feel that way sometimes, too.”
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Learn to recognize patterns. To support loved one’s mental health you will need to be a keen observer of the ebb and flow of their symptoms and behavior. Notice what escalates their symptoms and what reduces them. Observe the severity and duration and how they handle it. You can help them avoid what may be avoidable or encourage an alternative method for relieving their pain.
Listening, asking questions, and empathizing isn’t always enough to support loved one’s mental health. Encourage them to partner with a therapist. A professional counselor is often the best source of support. If you feel your loved one is in danger of harming themself or another, it’s time for immediate intervention. Offer to go along with them to their first appointment and help them follow the prescribed protocol thereafter. This tangible support is another way to show empathy.
One website with constantly updated information about mental health and relationships is SelfGrowth. Browsing this site is a good way to keep yourself informed on these topics and stay exposed to a variety of stories.
In your quest to support and connect with loved ones struggling with mental health, seek help if you feel in over your head! The guidelines above are a starting place but they may not apply in every situation. Rather than toughing it out, seek help for yourself and your loved one who’s struggling with mental health. It’s the greatest support you can give them.