Educate Yourself. If you suspect a family member or friend has a mental illness or they told you they were diagnosed, learn as much as you can about the illness. Learn what causes it, for example, in depression serotonin levels are low, do you know what that means and how serotonin works in the brain? If not, look it up! Just by being there and loving them is a major help, and the first step is to know what their diagnosis is and what it means. Education on their specific diagnosis can also help you be more compassionate toward them as they journey through this difficult process.
Don’t Try to Fix Them. Your heart comes from the right place, but sometimes suggestions of how they could try this or that just isn’t helpful, it is likely they have tried many of your suggestions anyway. There are professionals and medication that have been proven to help with mental illness treatment, if it was as easy as having a loved one talk them through it, then these issues would not be as prevalent. Sometimes a hug goes much farther than an offer of how they could solve the issue.
Include Them in Your Plans. People with mental illnesses often feel isolated, which is the last thing they need. To invite them on outings is an important step in helping them overcome barriers to successful treatment. Oftentimes they will resist your offer, but offer anyway. Even if they refuse every single time, it is an important way to let them know you still care about them and want them around.
Talk About It! Mental illness can be a very difficult subject to bring up, and many of us would rather ignore it. But bringing it up to the person who is suffering helps them know that you care. Think about it this way, when you are sick, or had a surgery, did you receive phone calls asking how you were? Did you receive flowers and well wishes from friends? If so, how did it feel? I bet you felt cared for and loved. If you did not receive cards, phone calls or check ups from friends, I am betting you felt abandoned, unloved and likely a tad depressed that nobody took the time to check up on you. This is how mental illness works too. Even the people who have suffered with mental illnesses that have lasted for many years feel good when people check up on them. It shows that you care. If you don’t know what to talk about, maybe research it a little, them bring up that research. Start by saying, “So I found an article about Depression and this is what it says… Do you agree? Are these the things you experience too? How often? How can I help?” It is important that you express your concern and remind them that you are there to help if they ever need it.
Call for Help When They Need It. This one cannot be stressed enough. If your loved one is talking about suicide, they mean it. It does not matter how much they assure you that they “would never do something like that,” or “I’m just not brave enough to kill myself.” If they talk about it, they mean it. I had an encounter at an impatient hospital with a person who was suicidal and their loved one was furious because, “They threaten suicide all the time, they aren’t serious, they don’t need help.” This absolutely broke my heart. There is a better way of life than having to kill yourself. There is hope on the other side. If you truly love this person who talks about suicide, call for help. Call a counselor, or 911. Know, too, that asking about their thoughts on this is a good thing. Bringing it up does not give them ideas they have never thought about. This will also show that you really care because you are willing to go down deep to the real dirty feelings some mental illnesses cause.
Thank you for being there for your loved one. Playing this important role is not easy. Make sure you take good care of yourself. See this blog to learn about self-care. It could save both of your lives!
Comment time! Let me know what you think! I would love to hear your stories about how you cared for or felt cared for by a loved one.