Learn the common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents.
Learn more about common mental health conditions that affect millions
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When someone has a mental health condition, support from family can make a big difference. However, it may be hard for us as family members to know what approach is best. It's particularly difficult to balance showing support with caring for our own health and encouraging others to be responsible for their actions.
Helping a family member is difficult, even if you do everything "right." No book, therapist or website can tell you how to prepare for the situations that may arise.
It may help to think of this experience as a learning process. Every person with a mental health condition experiences it slightly differently. One person may fear losing a job, while another may be more worried about how relationships will change. If you ask questions and listen to the answers, you can learn about your family member's unique concerns.
You can also acquire better skills for offering support, as you learn what works well in your family and what doesn't. If you come from a family that's uncomfortable talking about mental illness or emotions, remember you have the ability to improve your communication. Similarly, even if you feel like you don't know how to offer encouragement right now, you can develop and improve through practice.
We can support and encourage our family members. We can't, however, make their treatment decisions for them. We should offer suggestions and input, but be ready to accept and support their decisions.
They may not choose the treatment options that we would prefer, but by acknowledging their right to decide, we create a respectful, healing environment within the family. We improve their immediate quality of life by treating them with dignity. We're also encouraging them to commit to their chosen course of action.
The reality is that we can only control our own actions. We have to learn to give the people around us responsibility for decisions that only they can make. It's ultimately up to them to decide on their goals and strategies. You can encourage your family members, but you must let go of the feeling that you have to solve their problems for them.
Even when we know someone has a mental health condition, it can be hard to recognize his or her efforts to be well. Sometimes we wonder if a family member is "trying to be difficult." We may find ourselves looking for something to blame: should we blame our family member or the mental health condition itself. In general, we should try to give family the benefit of the doubt. Remember that no one chooses to experience these symptoms.
One of the most important ways to support a family member is to maintain our own mental health. The healthier we are, the more energy we have for problem solving and offering encouragement. We can then offer practical support, such as the following:
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741