Posted by
Jackie Hammers-Crowell
February 14th, 2022

One of my dearest friends has known me since I was seventeen and another since I was in my early twenties. I have canceled plans with each of them more times than I care to admit, but neither of them ever holds it against me or refuses to make new plans when I feel ready to try again. As a person with chronic depression, my energy to go out and socialize is sometimes completely out of reach. So I value this priceless gift that my friends have given me: their willingness to take me as I am.

Does Someone You Love Have a Mental Health Condition?

If you are a friend or family member of someone who struggles with mental illness, you may sometimes find yourself challenged by how best to show love and support for them. NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness) has several suggestions:

  • Empathize and validate – try to see things from your loved one’s perspective and understand that their feelings, while not logical to you, are legitimate.
  • Recognize that their symptoms don’t result from lack of effort – if recovery from mental illness required only the will to be better, very few people would be suffering.
  • Learn their symptoms and depersonalize them – just as my friends know that my withdrawal does not mean I don’t care about them, you can show support for your loved one by not making their symptoms about you.
  • Educate yourself – along with understanding the condition, it can be helpful to understand the treatments that are commonly used, including side effects. This can create empathy for the person when they don’t want to cooperate with treatment or they are irritable because of side effects that resulted from treatment.
  • Understand that recovery is not linear and doesn’t conform to a calendar – ideally, recovery would happen quickly, without relapses. Unfortunately, reality is not always ideal. The person might have setbacks; knowing you are still there for them could make it easier for them to get back on track.
  • Encourage them to utilize outside support – you don’t need to be, nor should you be, a person’s sole support. It is healthy for people with and without mental illness to have an entire village of personal and professional support people.

Seeing Beyond the Diagnosis of a Mental Health Condition

Another critically important way to show love and compassion for people with a mental health diagnosis is to remember that the person is not defined by their condition. Although they now have a label attached to them, the person you loved is still there and still has the same need for your relationship that they did before.

As shared by the Huffington Post, hugs help. When you feel at a loss for how to help your friend or family member, you can still support them by physically being present for them and recognizing them for who they truly are and have always been. Don’t stop inviting them out for coffee, game nights, or holidays. People with mental health conditions still want to be included, though they might need a certain amount of accommodation to participate.

Anticipating Physical Limitations

While a mental health condition doesn’t have the same physical impact as a broken leg or a concussion, it can still take a toll on a person’s ability to engage in their physical world. A person with depression might struggle to get out of bed, clean their home, or cook meals. Someone with anxiety might feel compelled to constantly keep their home pristine and may struggle to enter any environment where they feel out of control. A person with schizophrenia might not feel safe consuming foods from certain grocery stores or food pantries. Understanding these as symptoms of a condition may help to reduce frustration with the person you love, who can only exert a limited amount of control over these symptoms and who might already be utterly exhausted from their other symptoms.

Becoming an Ally

One of the things that people with mental illness dread is having control taken away from them. Medical and mental health professionals tend to ignore the lived experience and personal expertise of people with mental health diagnoses, and sometimes loved ones can also be guilty of trying to take over. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), one of the best ways you can show love and support for people with mental health conditions is to listen to them, ensure they have a voice in their own treatment, and make sure they are connected to professionals who treat them as a valued member of their own team.

Asking Questions

While people who struggle with their mental health do not want to be interrogated continuously about their symptoms, questions that reflect love and interest in a person’s well-being are a great way to show you care. Some examples offered by DHHS include the following:

  • I have been thinking about you. Can you tell me what has been going on?
    What else can I help you with?
  • I am someone who cares and wants to listen. What do you want me to know about what you are feeling?
  • Who or what has helped you get through similar issues in the past?
  • It seems like you are going through a difficult time. What would help right now?
  • I am concerned about your safety. Have you thought about hurting yourself or others?

At Highland Hospital, we value the impact friends and family have on our clients and are eager to ensure that we answer any questions you might have about mental health.

Are you or someone you love searching for depression treatment in Charleston, WV? For more information about Highland Hospital and the services we offer, please call and speak with someone today at (800) 250-3806. Highland can help.
By Published On: February 14th, 2022Categories: Families in Recovery, Mental HealthComments Off on How to Love Someone with a Mental Illness