One in five Americans lives with a mental health condition, which means all of our lives are touched by mental illness, whether it’s something we live with ourselves, or if it’s a condition a loved one faces. A strong support network of family and friends can make all the difference in someone’s recovery, but knowing just how to be that support network is often a stressful and confusing challenge.
Here are some ways you can #BeThere for the people you care about, and help them #BeWell.
1. Get educated
Learn everything you can about your loved one’s mental health struggles—signs and symptoms, triggers, and available treatments—so that you can better understand their needs. NAMI (Nation Alliance of Mental Illness) is a great place to start reading.
Every person with a mental health condition has a slightly different experience of it. When there’s something you want to understand better, ask your loved one. Keeping an open and honest dialogue will help prepare you both to face this challenge as a team.
2. Be there
Your can’t fix your loved one’s mental health problems, but you can help them cope. Just being there can make a world of difference in someone’s recovery. Give your compassion and acceptance freely. Be patient. Empathize. Encourage. Show them they’re not alone in this.
3. Encourage self-care
Our mental health and our physical health are all wrapped up in each other. The strength of one depends on the strength of the other. In times of mental and emotional hardship it is especially important to maintain good physical care of ourselves.
Without being too pushy, encourage your loved one to keep active, get exercise, to eat well, get some sunshine, sleep by a regular routine. And you can do a lot of this together too. Sign up for a spin class. Learn to fix a new recipe together. Plan a hike.
4. Don’t minimize
Remember that mental illness isn’t something a person can just will themselves out of, no matter how well loved they are. Telling somebody with a mental health condition to buck up, or to chill out, or that this too shall pass, will only worsen their frustration and their isolation.
5. Take responsibility
You loved one’s mental health problems may produce plenty of challenges, but remember to take responsibility for your own behavior too. You’re not perfect either, after all. Some arguments may have less to do with your loved one’s mental health condition, and more to do with your own irritability after a long day. Every relationship has its tension points.
6. Help them seek care
Seeking care can feel like a daunting task, especially for someone in the middle of a mental health crisis, and that’s where you can pitch in. The best place to begin looking for treatment is usually with someone’s insurer. Most will provide leads for therapists.
You can also help them schedule an appointment with their primary care doctor. These days, many primary care providers screen for mental health conditions, and many house behavioral health providers in their clinics.
And remember, we can’t force our loved ones into treatment, or fight their battles for them. The decision is theirs, but we can be there to support them through it.
7. Take care of yourself
Dealing with someone else’s mental health can be exhausting. If you’re going to lend strength to a loved one in their struggle, you’ll need to have spare strength to lend. It’s hard to offer much help if you’re running on fumes. Don’t forget to prioritize your own wellbeing too. This means knowing when to focus on your needs, and when to ask for help. Reach out to friends and family. Build a support network around yourself and your loved one.
There are many great support groups out there for people coping with their loved ones’ mental illnesses. Give one a chance. National Alliance on Mental Illness hosts support groups for families all across the country. Check out the support group locator here.
8. One day at a time
There will always be challenges that arise down the road, for all of us, and who knows what they might be or when they might come, but don’t let that steal your focus. You can’t solve all your problems in advance. Some days are going to be better than others, so take them as they come. Face the bad days in good faith, with the knowledge that treatment is effective, and that better times are coming. Meet the good days clear-eyed, and with gratitude. Celebrate the little victories.
Even if you feel like you’re not make a difference, even if it feels like your efforts go unnoticed, know that your love and support is nothing short of huge. It makes all the difference. We want to know how you support the ones you love, and we want to know how the ones you love have supported you. Share your story on social, using the hashtags #BeWell, #BeHeard, and #BeThere.
If someone you care about is in a state of psychiatric distress, call your local crisis lines. Reach the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.