Being diagnosed with a mental illness is something that impacts the life of a person as well as their family. The unpredictability in the behavior of someone with a mental illnesses, makes it tough on family members who are trying to decide the best approach in helping their loved one.
It’s difficult to watch someone you care for struggle with everyday life because of their mental health. It may feel impossible at times, but there are ways you can learn how to support someone with a mental illness.
It’s natural to experience different emotions when you’re trying to support a loved one with a mental illness. There are moments when you’re constantly worrying about the person’s safety. This is especially true if they are in a manic state, or suffering from paranoia. Other times you may experience feelings of frustration and anger as you try to find a balance between living your life and supporting your loved one. You may even begin to feel hopeless because despite your best efforts, you’ve exhausted your energy, time, and perhaps money in trying to help them.
My family experienced this emotional rollercoaster as we dealt with my oldest brother’s mental illness. For over ten years we worried, cried, and prayed that someday he would be in a better “frame of mind”, as he experienced periods of homelessness, arrests, and hospitalizations. It has been a very long road for both he and my family. After enduring many ups and downs, today he is doing much better in life.
-recognize the signs
-seek professional treatment
-be a source of encouragement
Determining if someone has a mental illness isn’t something that’s always clear. So how do you separate “odd” behavior that may be part of a person’s personality from something as complex as a mental illness? Recognizing a shift in a person’s thinking and behavior are two early indicators of a potential mental illness.
– extreme mood change, including feelings of euphoria
– continuously feeling sad
– prolonged feelings of irritability or anger
– lack of appetite
– loss of interest in social activities
– thoughts of suicide
– trouble perceiving reality from delusional thinking (paranoia, hallucinations)
It’s important to note that each mental illness has different symptoms, and that they present differently in children, adolescents, and adults. If you notice these signs in a person, it’s important to seek professional advice.
Recognizing the signs of mental illness is an important first step in the treatment process. Convincing someone to seek professional treatment requires that person being willing to accept help. Depending on age, due to patient rights, this may not be the easiest step when it comes to supporting someone with a mental illness. If you suspect that a loved one has a mental illness, reach out to that person in an approachable way.
Express that you’ve noticed a change in their behavior and because you care about their well-being, you would support them in seeking a professional opinion about their mental health. You don’t want the person to feel like they are being forced to seek help, as they may not believe anything is wrong with them. If you’re met with resistance, be a source of continuous encouragement.
Offering encouragement is sometimes the best way to support to someone with a mental illness. Simply providing your time could make a significant difference to this person. People with a mental illness want to feel “normal”, so talking about their symptoms is uncomfortable. Instead of offering advice on how to cope with their illness, you could be the much-needed “listening ear” this person needs.
Be empathetic to what’s being shared and offer words of comfort and understanding. Tell the person that their illness doesn’t define them. You want to make them feel like they are love and accepted regardless of their mental health.
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As stated earlier, those diagnosed with a mental illness want to fit the definition of normal. Therefore, being labeled as different, strange, and crazy makes one feel ostracized. You can limit this feeling in someone with a mental illness by pointing out their positive qualities. Tell them everyone has something about their personality that’s viewed as “different”. Afterall, it’s our peculiarities that make us unique beings.
Learning how to support someone with a mental illness can teach us many things. My brother’s journey with mental illness, has taught me to be more empathic towards those with similar struggles. It has also helped me to appreciate my own mental health and the fact that I have mental clarity. This is something many take for granted, but appreciating a sound mind is something we should all be grateful for.