Since about 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health disorder within our lifetime, it is pretty safe to say if you personally are not the 1 in 4, somebody really close to you is. It can be a really helpless, gross feeling to watch someone you love struggle. While watching someone we care about with any illness is a test of strength, it can be all the more challenging when the illness is not easily understood or seen. While most of us want to help in some way, it can be difficult to know how to help. Here are a couple of things to think about to maximize your support while keeping yourself balanced.
1) Don’t try to ‘fix’ them. While you might feel helpless watching someone struggle with a mental health disorder, firing out suggestions on how they can feel better or jumping in to try and remedy the situation is often not well received. Your loved one doesn’t need fixing, they aren’t broken, but they do need to figure out their journey and the means necessary to manage their disorder.
2) Do offer support. If you’re not sure what that really means – ask! Support will look a little bit different for everyone, for some it might be to talk for others it might be a simple hug. Let your loved one know you are there for them however they may need you.
3) Do some research. Take some time to learn about and understand the illness that is affecting your loved one. This in itself can be a form of support, especially if your knowledge about the disorder is limited.
4) Try not to make assumptions. A mental health disorder will impact everyone’s life a little differently. As with any illness, there will be good days and bad days. It’s great to do a little bit of research (see above), but remember we are dealing with individuals and what is said in a brochure doesn’t necessarily transfer to real life.
5) Don’t forget about yourself. In order to be a support to someone else, you need to look after yourself first. Make sure you are practicing self-care activities and engaging in healthy lifestyle habits (get some sleep, eat well, and exercise). If you are energized and looked after, you will have much more to give and a higher tolerance.
Have patience with yourself and your loved one. Learning to support someone with any type of illness takes some time and is a process of adjustment. When you’re feeling stumped or unsure how to help or if you are helping, have that conversation.