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How to Support a Loved One with Mental Health Concerns

In the spirit of #BellLetsTalk last week, which focuses on talking about mental health, let’s turn a page to talk about how to support others.

When it comes to talking to a loved one about mental health, it can be very uncomfortable because as a society we are still living with a lot of stigma and there isn’t enough information out there to help us know how to start such a conversation. Try these R-E-S-P-E-C-T tips to start the conversation:

(R) Realize it’ll take time to understand where you’re coming from.
For those experiencing a mental health condition, they might be having a hard time coming to terms with their mental health condition. Some might be experiencing “anosognosia” which is a symptoms where someone does not have self-awareness of the condition they’re in, meaning someone actually doesn’t know or think they’re ill. This TED Talk by Dr. Xavier Amador gives a good description of what this might look like.

(E) Educate yourself and others.
It can be really helpful to speak to a professional about your concerns and what you’re observing as the first step to getting support, and to continue these conversations.

(S) Say to yourself “it’s okay to feel what I’m feeling”.
It can be really challenging for family members to support a loved one with mental health concerns. Caregiver burnout is a feeling of mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion due to the demands of providing care. It’s important to have support when this happens, because your loved one needs you to be healthy in order for them to be supported by you.

(P) Patience
While it’s easy to say, patience is a virtue and definitely hard to practice, so start practicing now. Not only will you need to be patient with your loved one, it’s also important to be patient with yourself and the difficult feelings that might come up for you.

(E) Expect that there will be good days and bad days.
Plus there are lots of days that are both good and bad. other days in between. Progress isn’t linear. It can feel frustrating after several good days to have a bad day. It would be important to notice what happened on that bad day so you can strategize on minimizing future bad days.

(C) Crisis plans are important.
A crisis plan is a plan that is discussed in calm moments to decide which supports (personal and professional) to access during a crisis. Here is a great template to use.

(T) Teamwork makes the dream work. 
Think about who to involve in your “team” to support your loved one and you as well. List out people like mental health professionals (e.g. psychiatrists, family doctors, therapists), peer support (e.g. groups, crisis helplines), and family and/or friends.

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