If you have a family member, friend or significant other who is mentally ill, then you know how hard it is. You want to be there for them, but you don’t really know how to support them properly. You wish you could help them more, because you’re scared for them, but you don’t know how. And it’s exhausting.
As a mentally ill person, I’ve seen so many different reactions to my condition, and my loved ones have all behaved differently around me when I was having bad moments. So, I know what helps a mentally ill person, and what makes us feel worse. And I know it can be very difficult to cope with another person’s illness, especially when you love that person. So here are a few ways that you can help a loved one with a mental condition during hard times.
This is one of the most important things to do if you wish to help someone with a mental illness. Their condition is probably very confusing to you, especially if you’ve never experienced it yourself. You’re very likely worried about them, scared even, and that’s completely normal. But remember to acknowledge the way your mentally ill loved one feels, and to never invalidate how they feel.
It might be awful to watch your depressed friend be unable to get out of bed. And it’s terrifying to witness your bipolar significant other in a manic episode. But, no matter how hard it is, you have to be there for them, and you have to make them feel like they’re being listened to. Being in denial and belittling how your loved one feels just because you’re scared of their illness is never a solution, and it will only make them feel worse.
No matter how much you wish to see your loved one get better, you have to understand that it will not happen overnight. You will have to be patient, because every little step is important. Recovery is a different process for everyone: some people take a few months to recover from a mental condition, others take years. The important thing is to be there for your loved one every step of the way. In addition, recognize their efforts, whether it’s because they finally managed to get out of bed after days of staying inside, or because they finally got the job they wanted despite their anxiety. Even if these tasks seem small and insignificant to you, they’re like a mountain to climb for them.
Understand that you’re not responsible.
This is harder than it seems. I cannot count how many times my family members or friends have said that they feel guilty, because they were not able to help me as much as they wanted. The thing you have to understand is that you’re not a therapist, and you are not able to magically cure your loved one of their condition. And it’s not what they are asking, either. They just want to know that you’re here for them and listen to what they have to say. Mentally ill people tend to feel very lonely and rejected, so the best thing you can do is let them know you’re here if they need it. Ask them how they’re feeling, if they want to hang out, and if they aren’t able to do so, visit them at their house.
In short, let them know you care.
You also need to understand that their condition affects their personality and that they can’t help it. Sometimes a mentally ill person will be aggressive towards you, but they will not mean it at all. Unfortunately, a mental illness is often stronger than a person. And it might be very hard for you, as your loved one behaves in a way they normally wouldn’t. But you have to remember that this is not who they are: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc. do not define a person. Your friend or significant other is still there, they are simply ill, and don’t walk away unless it’s for self care. So the best thing you can do is to remind yourself that this is not your fault. You’re helping your loved one as much as you possibly can, and they are probably very thankful for that (even if sometimes, they are not able to show it).
Finally, educating yourself on your loved one’s condition is crucial as well. You can find some information on mental health here (LINK). Knowing more about their condition will help you understand your loved one better, and you will likely be a little be less worried about them if you know what’s going on in their head.
I get that it’s very hard to be there for them during those hard times, but you can’t walk away from your friend or relative right now. They need you, and one day they will be so grateful that you were there for them. Because the truth is, a lot of people walk away from a mentally ill person, because they are afraid and they can’t take it. And being alone when you have to face a mental condition is terrifying, trust me. Remember : no matter how hard it is for you to support your loved one, it’s always ten times harder for them. They’re the ill one, not you, and their condition affects them the most.