Take a moment to consider all the people in your life: your coworkers, friends, family. At any given time, 1 in 5 of these individuals is living with a mental health condition. You may have noticed them struggling, but if you’re not a trained mental health professional, you may not have known how to help.
However, you can help. You can be supportive and encouraging during their mental health journey. Here are a few tips on supporting the mental health of those you love.
1) Educate Yourself
There are hundreds of mental health concerns; your job is not to become an expert in all of them. When you do notice potentially troublesome symptoms, it’s helpful to determine if those signs may indicate a mental illness. Familiarizing yourself with common symptoms can help you understand and convey your worries. You may also benefit from expanding your knowledge by taking a course or joining a support group of individuals who can relate to the hardships you and your loved one may be facing.
2) Remain Calm
Recognizing that a loved one might need help can be daunting, but try to remain calm—impulsively approaching the individual might make you seem insensitive or aggressive. Try to be mindful and patient. Take time to consider your loved one’s symptoms and your relationship before acting. Writing down how you feel and what you want to say may be useful to help you recognize and understand your thoughts and feelings, and help you slow down while connecting to your good intentions.
3) Be Respectful and Patient
Before talking to someone about their mental health, reflect on your intention to promote healing and keep that in mind. Ask how you can help in their recovery process and be cautious not to come off as controlling. While encouraging a person to seek help is okay, it is not appropriate to demand it of them. Let them know that if they ever wish to talk in the future, you’re available.
Give your loved one the gift of having someone who cares about their unique experience. Don’t bypass their narrative by making connections to others’ experiences. You might recognize a connection to your own experience, however, sharing your story prematurely may undermine their experience. You may be prepared with hotlines, books, or a list of community providers, and although these are excellent sources of support, it’s important to take time to thoroughly listen before giving advice. It’s a privilege to have someone share intimate details of their mental health. Be present and listen before moving forward.
5) Provide Support
One of the best ways to help is to simply ask how. It’s not helpful to try to be someone’s therapist, but you can still help. People don’t like being told what to do—asking how you can help empowers them to take charge of their recovery, while also letting them know you are a source of support.
6) Establish Boundaries
As you support your struggling loved one, it’s important to consider both your boundaries and theirs. When trying to help, you are susceptible to neglecting yourself in the process; boundaries will help you maintain your self-care, while also empowering your loved one. Be sure you’re not working harder than they are at their own healing process.
As a caring person, you may grapple between wanting to encourage and support your loved one while wanting to honor their process and independence. Unfortunately, there are no foolproof guidelines for helping your loved one on their journey towards recovery. However, you can connect to your intentions, convey compassion and maintain your own self-care while empowering your loved one regardless of where they are in their healing journey.
Shainna Ali is a practitioner, educator, and advocate who is dedicated to highlighting the important role of mental health in fostering happiness, fulfillment, and overall wellness. She is a certified counselor and licensed mental health clinician, and the owner of Integrated Counseling Solutions, a clinical and consulting practice in Central Florida. Her areas of focus in research and practice include identity and culture, emotional intelligence, trauma, and creativity in counseling. For more information on Dr. Ali, please visit IntegratedCounselingSolutions.com
Note: This blog was originally published in March 2018.
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