I recently received a comment on one of my posts about if I had any advice on how to support loved ones struggling with their mental health. And although I’m not an expert, I think that having resources both for people who are struggling themselves, and for others to support their loved ones are equally important. So I thought, as someone who struggles with anxiety, dysthymia, self-harm, depersonalization, body image issues, and just a whole slew of other mental health issues, I’d would give my best advice on this topic. That being said, I am not a doctor or a professional in any way–and obviously not representative of every person who has ever had a mental health issue ever, so keep that in mind. 🙂
Help me fix myself
One of the hardest things I’ve seen for people to accept, and one of the hardest things even for me to accept when it comes to supporting friends with a mental illness is that… I can’t fix it, or control it–that ultimately, healing from something is in the victim’s hands.
No matter how many times you tell them you love them, that you’re there for them, that they’re beautiful just the way they are, it isn’t going to fix the fact that the majority of the time, they might not be able to believe those things themselves. For that reason, as hard as it is,the most important thing for the both of you to accept is that although you are there for them, and will support them no matter what, it’s not your job to recover for them.
You can’t control their suffering, and trying to mostly just comes off counterproductive.
Listen to me
If I had a dollar for every time someone had used my anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue I’m struggling with as an excuse to invalidate my opinions… well, I’d be pretty rich. Often, told people I’m concerned about something, and they’ve told me I’m just being anxious. Which can, for obvious reasons, be really harmful.
Even talking about other people with mental illness that way–as though because of their illness they’re automatically incapable of advocating for themselves, making their own decisions, and generally be full, independent human beings, doesn’t exactly send a great message, and honestly, it’s just a really shitty thing to do. Which brings me into…
Consider your words
Honestly, most people who care enough to be looking up online how to look a post like this up aren’t the type of people who need to hear this point. But it’s really important to me, so I wanted to make it anyway.
What people have said, even about strangers on the street has really affected me (especially when I was hearing these things as a child) . When you make a comment about someone’s weight while grocery shopping, or how lazy and useless your relative with depression is at a family dinner, at least for me, it’s almost as bad as if you had just said that to me yourself. (For the record, both of these things have happened to me before, more than once and at pretty young ages.)
Often when I’m gauging whether someone is a safe person to talk to, I’ll sort of bide my time in terms of talking to them about my mental health, and observe how they treat other people. If I get even the slightest hint they might not be an accepting person to talk to, I won’t do it, and I’ll just keep it to myself, even during a crisis.
Give me space
Sometimes, you just need to process things on your own. Especially with anxiety, sometimes you being there isn’t what the person needs. And mostly, they just need to curl up in their room, and be alone for a little while. (At least for me.) Of course, checking in on someone is totally okay, but I guess what I’m trying to say here is: respect their space, but make sure they know you’re there when they’re ready to talk.
That being said, if your loved one is in a crisis, and you believe them to be at risk of harming themselves, this tip is obviously not applicable and in that kind of urgent situation it is vital to make sure that they are safe, and contact whatever mental health support they need.
Advocate for me
I know this sounds cheesy, but despite how hard it’s been, getting help has changed my life. Am I perfect? No. I still struggle, obviously. But the amount of growth I’ve experienced since reaching out is amazing.
However, getting that help is a very difficult and lengthy process. Mental health care is only funded in my area in a very limited way, and seeking private help is too expensive for my family to consider, which left me essentially bouncing between limited free service and limited free service. This is a huge issue, and something I believe needs to change, but… well, that’s another post.
Essentially, in November 2018, my panic attacks at school got so bad my mom suggested medication. For a while, we considered some natural alternatives, but in the end decided not to go for them. I ended up then going to the doctor, asking for medication. He sent me to an anxiety specialist, but the specialist wasn’t accepting new clients, so then my doctor told me to go to the local health clinic, and speak to a psychiatric nurse, who sent me to a government funded counselling service, where I was then on a six-month waitlist, and in the meantime, used my mom’s work benefits, and, with some wheedling and persuasion, got fifteen sessions paid by that, before finally getting forty more sessions government-funded after a very long wait. Having someone to support you through the nightmare that is the healthcare system is really helpful, rather than having to brave it completely alone. Even if all you do is sit in the waiting room while your loved one talks to the doctor, at least for me, it means the world.
Take care of yourself
Even if you might not struggle to the degree your friend or family member does, everyone has mental health, and everyone needs to maintain it. So do whatever you need to take care of yourself. You’re not their therapist, and it is not your job to fix them, just to support them and love them as best you can along their own journey. Often, I can get really wrapped up in my friends’ issues, to the point of going to therapy and just talking about my friends’ problems and how worried I am about them for half of a session, which is something I’m working on, and I’m not really sure where that balance is, between caring for other people and caring for myself, but it’s something I’m working on, and something I think it’s really important to be able to do.
I hope these tips were helpful. Thanks so much for reading 🙂
Lots of love,