Being a Support Person

10 Ways to Support Someone with a Mental Illness


itnessing a loved one struggle with a mental illness can be very challenging and can leave you feeling helpless, frustrated, isolated and in the long term, can even lead you to become mentally unwell yourself.  When someone you are close to begins acting differently or showing symptoms of a mental illness, it can drastically impact your relationship by creating distance or conflict.  It can be really difficult to help someone, and can leave you wondering if you will ever get things back to the way they were. But it doesn’t have to be this way.  I have compiled these 10 things that can help you if you are trying to support someone with a mental illness.

  • Educate YourselfIt is important to understand the symptoms of a mental illness so that you can understand why your loved one is acting the way they are and it will also help to look out for warning signs that you should seek extra help. Sometimes there are symptoms or behaviours that you may not recognize as part of the illness, but could again create unnecessary tension or misunderstandings. Although it is great to inform yourself about mental health, always remember that every individual will have a unique experience. It’s always best to talk directly to your loved one about what they’re going though.
  • Communicate: Talk to your loved one.  The simple act of communicating your concerns, your love and telling them that you’re ready to support them in any way that he/she needs can make a huge difference in your relationship and in their recovery. It can be difficult to talk about mental health but silence can lead to assumptions, misunderstandings and can cause more distance in a relationship.  So push yourself to talk, however awkward or difficult if may feel.
  • Ask QuestionsAs everyone experiences mental illness a little differently, try to be aware of assumptions that you might have based on things you have read or heard from other people.  Ask questions to your loved one about what they’re experiencing and how you can help and be open to really listen to their answers.
  • Remember That Your Loved One is Still the Same Person: Mental illnesses can really take over a person’s life and can make it seem like their personality has changed.  Remember that your loved one is still the same person; he or she just isn’t well.  Try to give time and space to for healing and for your relationship to feel the way it once did.
  • Research Treatment OptionsSometimes treatment is overwhelming for people, and your loved one may feel hesitant or nervous to seek help for a variety of reasons. This can be very difficult to accept when you just want this person to be well and healthy. It can be helpful to explore a variety of treatment options for your loved one, because they may not feel up to researching it for themselves.  But it in the end, it is important to give space to allow them to decide when and where and if they want to access treatment.
  • Offer Reassurance and ValidationStruggling with a mental illness can be so isolating and overwhelming and can make even the smallest tasks seem impossible.  Encouraging and validating your loved one when they take steps towards healing is so important.
  • Offer HelpAsk your loved one if they want help with some of these near impossible tasks, when they’re struggling to complete them. And always remember to ask what you can do to help, instead of trying to guess or assuming.
  • Continue to Include that Person in your Life: Try to suggest doing activities that you normally would do with this person.  Invite them to the same types of events, and let them know that you’re still thinking of them, even if they may have cancelled or refused your offer many times before.
  • Take Care of YourselfWhen trying to help someone with a mental illness, it is easy to lose yourself.  I have one word that I want you to remember and keep at the forefront of your mind: BOUNDARIES.  You have to be sure that you’re giving yourself the love that you need and not emptying everything that you have inside to help that other person.  Why are boundaries so important?  Because if you empty yourself out, there will be nothing left to give.  And now it is time for one of my favorite metaphors: “You can’t pour from an empty cup”.
  • Ask For HelpDon’t forget to ask for help for yourself and your loved one.  Seek professional advice, talk with friends about what you’re going through, and solicit help from other people in your life as you go through this difficult time. The Spark Institute not only treats individuals with mental illnesses, we also support family and friends who need to talk, ask questions, or simply better understand what their loved one is going through.
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