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It’s scary when you find out someone close to you is struggling with mental health. No matter what they’re battling – depression, anxiety, trauma, an eating disorder, substance abuse – you might feel quite helpless. But it’s important to remember you’re not; there are countless ways you can help and support your family member. Whether it’s being physically present during some of their counseling sessions or just listening to them and their experiences, your support is a crucial factor in their recovery journey.

1. Listen to them

The feelings of isolation and loneliness, or the lie that “I have to do this on my own,” can be devastating to someone struggling with mental illness. On the other hand, knowing they have someone they can turn to during difficult and victorious times can make all the difference in someone’s recovery journey. Simply knowing they are not alone can give them the strength to continue pursuing recovery.

It is important to be a supportive, listening ear when your family member opens up to you. Don’t cast judgment, rather, listen to their side of the story and try to see the situation from their perspective. Ask honest questions, offer to help when appropriate, and overall, let them know they are loved no matter what.

2. Help them get the help they need

Reaching out for help is terrifying. Many people don’t receive the counseling or treatment they need out of fear of judgement, change or risk. Treatment is a long process, there’s no denying, but when your loved one is considering treatment, or even if they haven’t considered it, you have the opportunity to gently suggest it to them and encourage it. 

Of course, you don’t want to approach the conversation in a “You need help” manner as no one is going to receive that well. Rather, approach it from the perspective of “I want to help you, I just don’t have the training or knowledge to help in the way that would be most beneficial.” Work alongside them as they search for a therapist, counselor or treatment center, offering them support during the initial stages of this journey.

3. Educate yourself

Especially if you yourself have little to no experience with a mental health struggle or disorder, their realities can be intimidating. The more you educate yourself on what your family member is going through, the less you’ll be afraid of it and the more you’ll be able to offer concrete, productive help. Research the warning signs, the symptoms and the specific do’s and don’ts so you can better understand and empathize with your loved one.

4. Encourage them to keep up with their therapy/medications/treatment

It’s not uncommon for someone traveling through recovery to convince themselves they don’t have the strength to do it. This is where you come in – you can be that supportive voice negating the lies in their heads, telling them they can do this. When they are considering stopping treatment, skipping counseling sessions or going off their medication, you can remind them of their victories so far, the way they feel on medication versus off, and the positive impacts they’ve reported counseling to have on their mental state.

5. Attend counseling sessions, especially if they’re for the whole family

With certain mental health conditions, or co-occurring tendencies like alcohol or substance abuse, the whole family is likely to be affected in some way. Therefore, family counseling sessions might be important in everyone’s healing journey. Committing and showing up to these sessions is not only important for your own mental health, but it shows your family member that you’re also willing to make sacrifices for the sake of their recovery.

6. Make the home environment a safe one

If your family member is struggling with alcohol use, don’t keep the shelves stocked with tempting substances – pour it down the drain or store it out of sight. Don’t keep packages of junk food or crates of soda lying around if they’re working on overcoming binge eating. Don’t bring up stories of trauma or intense stress when your family member is around. 

It’s a fairly straightforward concept – if it could jeopardize the recovery, don’t have it lying around, don’t bring it up in casual conversation and don’t actively practice it. Keep in mind their recovery, and what’s best for their current state.

7. Don’t be a helicopter

At the same time, hovering and constantly checking up on your loved one, reminding them of things they already know (like when to take their medication or when their next counseling appointment is) isn’t helpful. Unless they directly ask you to check up on them or hold them accountable in some way, you need to practice trust – if you don’t trust them, they won’t trust you or themselves, which isn’t a good recipe for anyone working towards recovery.

8. Take care of yourself

When caring for someone with a mental health disorder, you need to set boundaries. Time for yourself, whether alone or with friends, is important for your own mental health and stability. Giving yourself time to recoup or just create a little distance will allow you to refocus and recharge so you can once again be fully present to your loved one. After all, if your own cup is empty, what are you actually giving to the other person?

As a family member, you have the opportunity to be a positive voice for change in the life of your loved one. By listening to them, offering them support as you are able and encouraging them in their recovery, you ensure them that they’re not on this path alone. And if you ever need more support for yourself or aren’t sure where to guide your loved ones, Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare is here for you. Call 678-274-4936 today, or reach out to get the help you or your family member needs.

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