Shock? Horror? Fear? How do you respond when someone you love is struggling with mental illness?

Well here are a few ways not to respond!

“They are just crazy!”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Snap out of it!”

“You just have to push through.”

“Get over yourself.”

“Stop being so selfish!”

“What is wrong with you?”

If you have never dealt with mental illness yourself, then it can be challenging to have empathy for someone else. I often use this analogy when talking with my patients. Depression is like you are in a swimming pool and someone comes up to you and holds your head under water. Depression makes you feel like your drowning no matter how hard you try to swim. Depression takes away your motivation, enjoyment and pleasure in life, and leaves you feeling tired and helpless. Mental illness is not something you just shake off. It’s something that requires work to overcome. How can you support a family member who has mental illness? I developed a checklist of the top 5 ways family members can be helpful!

  1. Stop judging and start listening: People often have a lot of preconceived notions about mental illness. I know many families who are ashamed to admit that mental illness is a problem. Set aside your preconceptions and allow the person to share how they feel without judgment.
  2. Don’t try to fix or minimize their feelings: Unless you are a mental health professional, you will most likely be unsure of how to respond to a mental health problem. That’s ok! Even if you’ve personally never dealt with mental illness, you can listen and say “wow, that sounds difficult!”
  3. Remind them they aren’t alone: Most people who struggle with mental illness feel isolated and believe the lie that they are the only one who deals with this issue. You can share with them stories and experiences of other individuals who have dealt with mental illness.
  4. Help them find mental health resources (A counselor, mental health nurse practitioner, support group, or psychiatrist): People with depression often feel overwhelmed and are scared to talk to someone about what is going on. You can help by researching local treatment options and showing them how to connect with a professional.
  5. Help bring them to their appointments for moral support: Going to the doctor can be scary especially if you’ve never been to see a mental health professional before. Offering to take your family member to their appointment and sit with them in the waiting room could give them to confidence to follow through and get help.  

Thanks for reading friends! If this encouraged you please share with a friend! Be sure to check out more resources at the Mental Health Toolbox!