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Supporting Someone with Mental Health Issues

When it comes to talking to a loved one about mental health, it can be very uncomfortable. As a society, we are still living with a lot of stigma when

 it comes to mental health. There is not enough information out there to help us know how to start; however, we are making some great strides in mental health awareness, for example, with Canada’s annual Bell Let’s Talk Day this past Wednesday.

 

Try these R-E-S-P-E-C-T tips to support your loved one with mental health issues:

 

Realize it will take them time to understand where you are coming from.

When you approach the topic of mental illness with a loved one you know/ suspect are struggling, they might be having a hard time coming to terms with their mental health condition. Some might experience “anosognosia”, a symptom where one does not have self-awareness of the condition they are experiencing. Their acknowledgement of your concerns may take time. This TED Talk by Dr. Xavier Amador might be helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXxytf6kfPM

 

Educate yourself and others.

It can be really helpful to speak to a professional about your concerns and what you are observing. While you may not be suffering from mental health symptoms as a primary patient, you certainly experience secondary symptoms, which are equally deserving of support and conversations with a professional.

 

Say to yourself “it’s okay to feel what I’m feeling”.

It can be really challenging for family members to support a loved one with mental health concerns. Caregiver burnout is a feeling of mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion due to the demands of providing care. It is important to have support if you relate to feelings of this ‘caregiver burnout’. Your loved one needs you to be healthy in order for them to be healthy.

 

Patience is a virtue, and definitely hard to practice.

Not only will you need to be patient with your loved one, but it is also important to be patient with yourself and the difficult feelings that might come up for you. We want ourselves and others to stop feeling bad right now, and we want the solution to our problem to come more quickly. Remember: recovery usually takes longer than we thought it would, and it can become frustrating… but you can push through. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

 

Expect that there will be good days and bad days.

In supporting a loved one with mental illness, it is important to know that healing is not a linear path. There are ups and downs and some days feel like you are taking 10 steps backwards instead of forwards.This can trigger feelings of anxiety and/ or depression. When we are not intentional in caring for our mental health, we can be more susceptible to experiencing bad mental health days. Remind your loved one of the simple self-care items they could try to get back on track.

 

Crisis plans are important.

A crisis plan is a plan that is discussed in calm moments to decide which supports (personal and professional) to access and how we can keep our loved ones safe. Here is a great template to use: https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/samhs/mentalhealth/rights-legal/crisis-plan/home.html.

 

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Think about who to involve in your “team” to support your loved one and you as well. List out people like mental health professionals (e.g. psychiatrists, family doctors, therapists), peer support (e.g. groups, crisis helplines), and family and/or friends. It can be a lot easier, and less painful, if we all contribute to one’s healing together.

 

To learn more about how we can support you in managing your stress and feelings of anxiety about your loved one, please contact Vivian Zhang at vivian@balancedmindandwellness.com.

Please see our previous blog post for some more tips on how to talk about mental health.

Holiday Social Anxiety: 6 Common Causes and How to Cope

  1. Staying with friends or relatives (unfamiliar surroundings)…

If you are going to be staying with friends or relatives in unfamiliar surroundings, ensure you have your regular comfort items and some coping strategies on hand. These might include: your usual snacks, a good book, a friend to call, or an ‘excuse’ to remove yourself from any uncomfortable situations.

 

  1. Spending time with your significant others’ friends and/or family…

If you are with your significant other and worried about spending more time with someone on their side, let them know what might make you feel more comfortable. This might include a pre-established signal to help you both step away from the group at times.

 

  1. You feel like you’re bad at small talk and don’t know what to say…

Ask yourself if it’s really true that you have nothing to talk about. You probably have at least one or two interests or experiences you can talk about, but you may be dismissing them as silly or uninteresting. If this is the case, you’re likely being too self-critical. Or, if talking about yourself makes you nervous, focus instead on learning three new things about the person you’re talking to.

 

  1. Being questioned…

This is often uncomfortable at family and friend gatherings when you haven’t seen them in a while. Rather than focusing on being put on the spot, remember that they miss you and are genuinely interested in hearing about what’s going on in your life.

 

  1. Coping with loneliness…

Spending too much time on your own can make you feel anxious, lonely and depressed. Part of why the holidays feel more lonely is high societal expectations for this time of year. Not having a romantic partner or close family can feel more uncomfortable than usual. Try re-thinking your expectations, and shift your focus to the things that you do have (and are grateful for) in your life. Bring a friend as your plus one, or that the sometimes sporadic love of a difficult family member still counts as love, has helped many people feel less lonely.

 

  1. Coping with large numbers of people…

You might worry that other people are watching you, judging your appearance, or judging what you are doing. Shopping malls are especially packed this time of year and can cause a great deal of stress. If these thoughts resonate with you, remember that most people are there with their own worries/ shopping lists, and likely are too preoccupied to be worrying about what you are. If malls generally overwhelm you, go in with a specific list and make a plan according to the mall map ahead of time.

 

Do you want to conquer your social anxiety and be more comfortable around new people? If you spend time thinking about what other people think, that’s when people notice. So, have fun, and do what feels right to you.

If you’re constantly worried about others judging you and it’s getting in the way of your work, life or relationships, you might consider seeking help. There’s no quick-fix for social anxiety therapy involving Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you overcome your social anxiety over time.