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Four tips to help your loved one with a mental illness

According to Mental Health America, one in five adults have struggled with a mental health condition this past year. That’s over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined.

One area of mental health that often gets overlooked is the impact those struggles have on close friends, family, children, or other loved ones.

It is certainly true that un-diagnosed mental health conditions have been primary players in divorces and addictions as well. But what can a family member or loved one do to help someone struggling with a mental health condition? Here's what you can do to help:

  • Talk to the person about what you’ve noticed and why you’re concerned. When talking to a person you are concerned about, do not give advice, try to fix them, or say, “You will get over it.”  The better approach to take is one of support, empathy, and a desire to understand what is going on.
  • Suggest seeking help from a professional—a mental health provider such as a licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed professional counselor or psychologist. Express your willingness to help by setting up appointments, going with them to the appointment and/or attending family therapy sessions.
  • It is not uncommon for loved ones that help to start experiencing some of the same symptoms that their loved one is. Those symptoms look like increased irritability, sadness, fatigue, over/under eating, over/under sleeping. If someone has significant trauma in their past, being involved in someone else’s significant trauma process may trigger their own symptoms. To combat these symptoms, which are quite normal, establish boundaries for yourself when trying to help a loved one. For instance, never do more work than the person you are trying to help is doing. As long as the loved one is making an effort, make that same effort. Another boundary setting technique is helping a loved one develop a safety plan that includes other supportive participants. Have a community of support will ease the burden of being the “sole” care taker.

If you have any questions about how to do this, feel free to contact me at Wyoming Center for Clinical Excellence at 307.257.2610 or [email protected].

Brian Edwards, LMFT, CATC, is a co-founder of the Wyoming Center for Clinical Excellence in Gillette, Wyoming. Brian specializes in trauma, group counseling, marriage and family therapy and substance abuse and addiction therapy.