Being There For Those You Love

Throughout your life you will find that sometimes being there for those who mean the most to you is the hardest, especially when it comes to dealing with mental health. What we (as support systems) may think is the ‘right’ thing to do is often incorrect, and possibly even harmful. Personally, I have several family members and best friends who all deal with mental health struggles daily and, with that in mind, I set out on a mission. I wanted to personally talk to those who deal with mental health and find out what works, and what doesn’t. After interviewing women from my family, as well as friends and other women from Her Campus, I have been able to compile a “list” of what people find the most helpful and what does not work in hopes that all us supporters have a better chance at supporting and helping the ones we love the most.

So What is Helpful…?

1. Including Them in Plans

Instead of asking them what they want to do, plan something and offer for them to be part of it. It can be as simple as a regular outing like getting groceries, or even a movie night. By extending the invitation, it makes the individual feel involved and less alone; even if things are very hard for that short period of time it won’t feel like the world is tumbling down around them. Of course, with this being said, if they choose to say no and decline the invitation you must be respectful of their decision.

“What’s something that makes them happy? You’re the person that loves them and you know what they like so plan something and enjoy it with them.” – Cassie (Clinical Depression & Anxiety)

 

2. Be Patient!

Although it may be frustrating to you as the support system, you must be patient no matter what is going on. Change is really difficult for everyone, and different people adapt with different strategies. You may not fully understand what is going on with the person you love. Take some time. Do some research, and be patient because nothing can just be ‘fixed’—it’s a process and it’s a lifestyle change that needs adapting.

“I’ve been in situations where people will play around with the numbers of things I have as a joke. I know it doesn’t make sense but it’s important for my friends and family to know that I know they don’t understand, I just need them to accept me.” – Julia (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

 

3. Establishing Communication—Asking Questions

If the person you love is not being vocal about what they need or what is going on, it’s your job to simply ask. Sit down and calmly ask “what do you need from me?” Every person and situation is different so it’s very hard to just assume everyone needs the same thing; by asking you are able to be the most supportive, as well as open a further line of communication for the future when times may be worse. Reminder: this is not always the type of question you ask in a time of crisis, but rather before or after the crisis has been dealt with.

“If I’m having a panic attack, I could either need someone to physically hold me together or stay as far away from me as possible. So it’s trying to establish a channel of communication.” – Becca (Generalized & Social Anxiety Disorders, and Major Depressive Disorder)

 

4. Be There

As the support system, it’s your job to be there for the one(s) you love. Sometimes people dealing with mental health feel very alone and by simply just staying close to them, even just by sitting on the couch together, it can make a big impact and make the person feel less isolated. They very well may try to push you away but just remember, they really don’t want to feel so alone. Stay and just don’t be pushy. They will appreciate the company in the long run.

“It’s about empathy and knowing that you don’t have to understand exactly what people are feeling in order to help them” – Alexie (Major Depressive Disorder & Anxiety)

 

5. Remind Them

Simply reminding someone that they are loved can make a huge impact. I think we are all guilty of feeling alone and unloved at times: adding that on top of mental health issues can be overwhelming. Even just sending a simple text that says, “thinking of you” or mentioning how much you care about them can make a big difference in someone’s mental well-being at that time.

“If I need it, reminding me that they love me and [that] things are going to be alright. Being patient with me is a huge one, people sometimes don’t realize that if you’re trying to help someone with a mental illness it may be frustrating and that’s just part of the deal, and it’s not their fault. Patience is key.” –Lauren (Generalized Anxiety Disorder & Situational Depression)

 

6. Help find resources

This step is something that you as a supporter should always know and have on hand. Many times the people we love are not always ready to seek resources or get help. When they are ready, it’s your job as their support system to help guide them in the right direction, whether that be finding a crisis centre, a doctor, or choosing a medication. If they are looking for a resource, do your homework and support them in whatever they choose.

“Finding the right medication may take time --- It’s not embarrassing to have to go on meds—don’t rush it to figure out what meds work—but also don’t rush anyone or yourself off your meds.” –Kiana (Clinical Depression)

What is Not Helpful…?

1. Saying things that start with “You’d feel better if you did…”

Obviously if there was some magical thing that made everyone feel better, people would be doing it. Taking a shower, or going for a walk, or getting out of bed won’t really change how they are feeling. Instead, try the better option of inviting them to an activity you already have planned.

2. Shaming

Whatever someone is doing to better themselves, whether it be therapy, exercise, or medication, you cannot shame them. Chances are they’re already feeling weird about the whole thing, or are just starting to accept it, and by shaming them you are being the exact opposite of supportive.

3. Comparing Your Problems

Under no circumstances should you start comparing your trivial problems to the problems someone you love faces in terms of mental health. By doing this, you are making everyday issues seem as big as mental health issues, which are usually much harder to deal with on top of everyday issues.

4. Don’t walk on Eggshells

It’s normal not to know how to address a situation you yourself have never been in. With that being said, just because someone you love has been diagnosed with a mental illness, it doesn’t meant they aren’t still the same person. Don’t walk on eggshells around them, but rather treat them respectfully and as normally as you possibly can.

5. Thinking that just saying “I’m here for you” is enough...

By saying that you are there for someone, you are insinuating more than just your ability to text those four words. These words are serious and if you can’t actually be there when things get tough then maybe saying nothing is your best bet.

6. Not Listening

It’s not a supportive thing to just dismiss how someone is feeling in that moment. If you are unable to take the time to listen to someone, then how are you ever going to be able to support them?

 

So there you go: first hand advice from people who may understand what someone you love is going through. By taking these basic steps and avoiding some others, these tips give you the opportunity to be the best support system you can possibly be to those you love dealing with mental illness.

It must be addressed that not all these tips will work for everyone, as well as the majority of people who gave advice for this piece were female and dealt with just a few mental illnesses. Mental illness takes many different forms and no one is less painful to deal with than the next. If someone you love is having difficulty with a mental health related issue, speak out or check out one of the many resources listed below.

Remember, you are loved and you matter—whether you need support or you are the one supporting, the world is better with you in it.

Resources:

  • Ontario Mental Health Hotline: 1-866-531-2600
  • CMHA London: 648 Huron Street. Call Information Line: 519-434-9191 x 223
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
  • Crisis Hotline: 519-433-2023 or 1-866-933-2023
  • FEMAP London: 519-646-6000 ext. 65178, Email: [email protected]

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