Though it’s fast becoming a concern for more of us as we realize that it’s more widespread than anyone thought, mental health concerns are difficult to understand. It’s not as easy to treat as a broken leg, and sometimes it can genuinely feel hopeless when you’re trying to cope with them. Not just for the person suffering, but for their loved ones, too. If you love someone dealing with depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, and so on, you want to help them, but you might not know how. Here, we’re going to look at the real difference you can make in the life of the person you love.
Gaining awareness that you can’t “fix” anyone
No-one has the magic solution to mental health trouble. Changes in lifestyle, medication, counselling, support groups, they can all play a role. But it’s important to realize that the difference one person can make can be life-saving and minimal at the same time. Don’t take it upon yourself to try and “fix” someone. Don’t believe your relationship with them is the only cause or the only cure. Don’t bog yourself down with guilt over your inability to do more. And don’t think you have a more active role than they do. The steps to treating mental health issues only work when the person afflicted is ready and willing to take them.
That’s not to say you can’t help them get to that point. You can’t force them to seek treatment or even to admit their own issues, but you can be aware of them. Start by paying more attention to someone you think might be suffering from a mental illness. It’s not always as simple as seeing that they are excessively sad (though that can be a symptom). Other signs of mental illness include irritability, low energy, changes in sleeping or eating habits, substance abuse, self-harm, and much more. By being more watchful, you can pick up on the signs you might otherwise miss. So, keep an eye out.
While you can’t force someone to tackle mental health issues you believe they might have, you can still make it very clear what you are concerned about. Taking the time to sit with them and let them know you’re worried about them and you would like to support them might not work immediately, but it can make a difference and perhaps help them come to their own conclusions about seeking help. If someone is dealing with self-destructive behavior, an intervention specialist can help you find the time and opportunity to address it and not just the concern you have for them, but how they affect the people around them. Again, it’s important to realize you can force recovery or even acknowledgement of the issue, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore or avoid signs of real danger.
Know what not to say
If someone has admitted that they are depressed, that they are dependent on one addiction or another, or that they’re dealing with anxiety, they leave themselves vulnerable to you. Not just in the moment, but permanently. For those who have no history of mental illness, empathizing can be difficult. You can’t understand what they’re going through, so don’t pretend you can. Read about the condition and learn the little thoughtless things that you shouldn’t say. What might sound harmless, like concern, or even advice from your perspective can make them feel like they’re being persecuted or demonized for things they have no control over. If your attitude is genuinely that “they should get over it”, you shouldn’t be part of their recovery until you can gain a little perspective.
Help them find treatment (when they want it)
Again, because it deserves reiteration, an individual’s path to recovery will only work when they are willing to do it. It doesn’t mean it will work immediately, but it does mean that forcing them into treatment that they’re not ready for will never work. When they are ready, however, you can provide a lot of help, if they are willing to let you. You can find support groups, rehab facilities, treatments, and if they need the support, you can even sit with them on some treatments. But, how much you are a part of said treatments depends on them and their healthcare provider. Sometimes, you can sit out of it and you shouldn’t try and fight that.
Building new habits with them
Sometimes, making healthy lifestyle changes can be a big part of the recovery from depression, addiction, and other mental health issues. This might include exercise, diet, trying new hobbies, simply spending time outside if someone has social anxiety. By being willing to join them in these new habits, you could be providing all the support they need. You can also help them keep themselves accountable to themselves. They’re more likely to find the energy to get up and exercise because they know you are waiting for them. However, don’t force them or chastise them when they stumble. Let them know you’re ready to support them. Especially with issues like depression, sometimes it simply feels like you have zero energy.
Ask what you can do
Most importantly of all, don’t believe that all the answers above work all of the time. Finding more about the mental illness and doing your research can help, but though the symptoms and the chemical and brain function causes might be the same, everyone’s experience of it is different. Besides talking, be there to listen attentively. Ask if you can help and how you can help, and just be willing to let them express themselves. It’s easy to feel like you’re ready to take on mental illness and that eagerness can turn into a sort of bullishness that makes the individual feel like you’re talking and acting over them, not with them.
Above all else, make sure to take care of yourself, too. It can be a struggle, watching a loved one go through a mental health crisis, and trying to help can take a toll on you, too. You need support, so turn to your own friends or even a healthcare professional if you’re starting to feel like you can’t cope.