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Dealing with a mental illness can be painful and lonely, and seeing someone you love struggle through that can be heartbreaking. Family members of people who struggle with mental illness often feel helpless, wanting to help but not knowing how.

Beginning the conversation is the first step to supporting your loved one with his or her mental health struggles. It may feel awkward at first to talk about something that feels so personal, but sharing openly is necessary to support treatment.

How you offer help to your family member will largely depend on the severity of the mental illness, your relationship and the other interventions going on. However, there are some things that anyone can do to offer encouragement to a family member struggling with mental illness.

1. Express your love

People who struggle with mental illness often feel a diminished sense of value. One of the symptoms of depression and other disorders is low self-worth. Affirming your family member can go a long way towards combating those negative feelings.

Verbalizing your care for your loved one can offer a much needed sense of hope and healing. This also opens the conversation to talking about mental health and other ways you can provide help.

2. Encourage counseling

If your loved one has not begun counseling yet, speaking about the importance of professional treatment is definitely a move you want to make. A little bit of info or reassurance may be all it takes to get someone started with mental health counseling.

If you’re not familiar with counseling yourself or how to broach the topic, check out this article for ways to encourage a loved one attending counseling.

3. Support physical health

The body and the brain are integrally connected, and whatever you can do to support physical health will also bolster mental health. Model and share in healthy lifestyle habits – go on walks together, join a sports league or try out a new healthy restaurant.

There’s no need to sneak more carrots onto your family member’s plate at dinner – have an honest chat about why you want to foster a healthy lifestyle and why you want to do it together. You’ll be strengthening your relationship and benefiting both your bodies. It’s a win-win.

4. Bring the family together

Having strong family support is one of the strongest protective factors against negative mental health outcomes. There is no training required to do this, simply lending an ear and building bonds as a family is enough.

Make an effort to have structured family time at least once a week. Whether it’s a weekly board game night or Saturday brunch, bringing the family together consistently is one of the most fun ways to support your loved one.

5. Know the symptoms

Educating yourself on mental illness not only shows your willingness to collaborate in the treatment process, it also allows you a greater insight on how and when to help. If your loved one struggles with depression or thoughts of suicide, paying attention to signs can help you feel a greater sense of security in offering support.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is a great place to turn if you’re looking for a clinical list of symptoms, but a quick internet search can also offer good resources on signs to look for.

6. Help with medication management

If your family member is taking medication as part of his or her treatment program, one of the easiest things you can do is be aware of the routine and promote taking the right meds at the right time. 

In order for most medications to be effective they have to be taken consistently. Especially if your family member is forgetful or is fickle about regularly taking the medication, keep him or her on track by keeping a log or using an app for medication management. 

7. Try out therapy for yourself

If you have someone in your family who is struggling with a mental health disorder it’s likely taken a toll on you, too. There is no shame in reaching out to help you manage the stress. Anyone can benefit from therapy and you don’t need a diagnosis to justify the decision to support your own mental health.

Seeing the effects of a loved one’s mental illness can be hard, but know that you are not alone and you are not helpless. Engaging the family in treatment by having open conversations and using the above tips can be a game-changer.

Offer support to your family and model acceptance of support. If the stress of your family member’s mental health becomes overwhelming, know that you are deserving of treatment, too. Reach out to Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare if you want to take care of yourself so you can take care of those you love, or to get your family member set up with services. Call 678-274-4936 today to set up an appointment.


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