6 Ways to Support a Loved One with a Mental Health Issue

hear hands support

Have you ever been faced with a loved one experiencing mental health issues, but didn’t know what to say or how to help? You’re not alone. With mental health struggles becoming the new normal in the United States and worldwide, it’s increasingly likely that you’ll encounter someone who needs your support in this area.

Luckily, we have come a long way from the support strategies used in the past. We now know that tactics like “tough love” or jail sentences aren’t helpful responses. But some of us can still be baffled by a loved one—a spouse or significant other, sibling, child, friend, or another family member—who is facing mental health problems, including addiction.

Afraid to say the wrong thing or unsure of what to say at all, too many people don’t speak up and thus drive these issues further into the shadows. If you know someone who’s struggling, try these 6 strategies to help lead them into the light of treatment, help, and healing.

People coping with mental health issues may be prone to negative self-talk, denial, or shame. Start the conversation gently and continue to listen with an open mind as they speak. Click To Tweet 

THE CURRENT STATE OF MENTAL HEALTH

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1 in 5 U.S. adults lives with a mental health disorder. An estimated 1 in 25 of them are serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major clinical depression.

When it comes to adolescents, more than 1 in 5 youth (ages 13-18) currently have, or have had, a seriously debilitating mental illness. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 50% of the world’s population will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime.

6 STEPS FOR MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT 

  1. Be gentle.

People coping with a mental health condition, from substance use disorders to anxiety disorders, may be prone to negative self-talk, denial, or shame. Therefore, you’ll want to start the conversation gently and continue to listen with an open mind as they speak.

Ask open-ended questions rather than assuming you know what they’re feeling. However, if you have also struggled with mental health, you might want to share this, to establish a two-way exchange of vulnerability.

Validate them and intermittently reflect back what you’ve heard to make sure you understand their concerns. Ask if they would be open to receiving advice or feedback before sharing your thoughts. Try to put yourself in their position.

Finally, remain patient throughout the process. Ask them, “What is the best way I can support you at this time?” and be ready to accept their answer.

  1. Take their concerns seriously.

Those who struggle with mental health disorders need an open ear and kindness, not clichés, platitudes, or condescension. Avoid using invalidating and minimizing statements, such as:

  • “I know exactly how you feel.”
  • “Look on the bright side.”
  • “But you have so much to be grateful for.”
  • “You’ll snap out of it eventually.”
  • “Everyone goes through this sometimes.”

These kinds of sayings can make your loved one feel unheard, misunderstood, or alienated. Instead, practice empathy, listen with sensitivity, and allow them to share what feels appropriate for them.

You can simply express your concern and your care without passing harsh judgments, while assuring that you are hearing and supporting them.

  1. Encourage them to seek help.

Today, no one with a mental health disorder has to suffer alone—and there are multiple ways to treat these problems, including many natural solutions. While making clear that you’re not qualified to diagnose the issue, emphasize that professional help is available and offer to support them as they seek it (such as accompanying them to appointments).

When appropriate, share with them pertinent information about the problem(s) they are facing. Continue to plant these seeds on occasion, without overwhelming or bombarding them.

Remember, you don’t want to tell them what to do or act pushy, but rather offer beneficial information that can positively impact their lives.

However, if your loved one is experiencing a crisis or is in danger of harming themselves or others, do not hesitate to call 911. In non-urgent cases, you can also reach out to 988, the Suicide & Crisis Hotline.

  1. Position mental health as brain health.

It’s easy for those with mental health issues to feel like something is “wrong” with them. But these issues aren’t moral failings, character flaws, weaknesses, or indications that someone is defective. They are brain health issues.

That’s why brain SPECT imaging is so useful to help determine the underlying causes of these issues. In fact, Amen Clinics has seen numerous patients who arrived in a last-ditch effort to find effective treatment.

SPECT scans can find details that may have been previously overlooked, helping clinicians understand more about how the patient’s brain uniquely functions.

Combined with other steps, like taking a clinical history, personal interviews, family information, diagnostic checklists, and neuropsychological tests, SPECT can help pinpoint the treatment that’s needed. Encourage your loved one to seek functional brain SPECT imaging if standard treatments aren’t working.

  1. Plan mood-boosting conversations and activities.

It’s admirable that your loved one feels comfortable enough to open up about their mental health, and your ongoing concern is natural. But don’t forget to also maintain conversations and activities that bring levity to their life and your interactions.

Talk about topics that are unrelated to their mental health, like books, movies, music, or inspiring news stories. Make time for fun outings—because laughter truly is a great medicine, triggering feel-good neurotransmitters.

Exercise in particular is great for improving anyone’s mental health, so make plans that involve a walk or bike ride, a hike in nature, a yoga or exercise class, dancing, or sports. Physical activity releases endorphins, which generate positive feelings in the body—thus opening the door to more positive feelings and thoughts.

  1. Discourage isolation.

Many mental health struggles are associated with a desire to isolate, which can aggravate the problem. In addition to encouraging your loved one to contact you for support, you may also suggest finding a support group, either in-person or online, as well as a mental health professional like a counselor, therapist, or psychologist.

Encourage them to stay in regular contact with friends and family, and to reach out rather than isolate when they’re having a difficult day. Building a network of people (not just 1 or 2) is key, so that they never feel alone.

In fact, this point brings us back to square one—because the tendency to isolate is exactly why it’s important for you to broach the topic of mental health with your loved one to begin with. They may be unlikely to share their problems without being directly asked, in a gentle yet concerned way, by someone they care about.

OVERCOMING MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA

It’s heartbreaking to see a loved one struggling with mental health issues. We can feel powerless, frustrated, saddened, even angry.

The good news is, we have more treatment options than ever to improve symptoms—and we can all make a difference by showing empathy and understanding. By practicing a kind, caring, and open-minded approach, you’ll be doing your part to help erase the damaging stigma around our world’s growing mental health concerns.

 Anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

1 Comment »

  1. Excellent Ideas!

    Comment by Doug Morris — January 23, 2024 @ 1:54 PM

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