A female hand being held in between to male hands offering support

How to Support a Loved One’s Mental Health

After having a medical procedure done, patients are often given a list of post-op or post-treatment instructions. This list makes it easy for themselves and their caretakers to know exactly how to care for them after said procedure. However, this is not usually the case with mental health treatments. 

Although therapy has a range of benefits and has been proven to yield long-term results, the process can be mentally draining at times. Depending on a person’s mental health state, the attendance or absence of therapy can cause this state to fluctuate. If you have a loved one who struggles with their mental health, you may often find yourself wondering what you can do to help. 

It is no question that mental health is not as concrete as physical health. Because of the fluidity of mental health, it can be a lot harder to know just how to take care of your loved one if they are struggling. Nevertheless, it is important to provide them with the best support you can. 

It is also highly important to realize that someone struggling with their mental health may not be able to express gratitude for those around them, and many of your efforts may go unnoticed and unpraised. This is mostly attributed to the fact that people in a distressed mental state cannot perceive reality clearly and can be blinded by whatever predominant emotion they are feeling. It is important to remember that their behavior likely is not a reflection of anything you are doing wrong. It is also important to remember that you need to take your own mental health into account because you cannot be helpful if your mental health is also declining. 

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can help support a loved one’s mental health: 

Make Sure They Are Getting Care: 

First and foremost, if you are concerned about a loved one’s mental health, you need to make sure they are getting the care they need. Ultimately, one’s mental health can only be improved if they themselves are willing to work on it and treatment from a licensed professional is the best way to help them get started. If they are not already working with someone, it is strongly recommended to connect them to local resources. 

Some people may be more open to getting help than others. When starting this conversation, you should be very careful to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. For example, say things like “I am worried about you…”, “I would like you to consider talking with a therapist…”, or “I think you should speak with your primary care doctor about how you’ve been feeling”. 

Two guys sitting on a bench with one providing emotional support to the other

Another thing you can do to get them care is to research any and all potential barriers that might stop them from getting care. Possible barriers can include transportation, timing, location, and insurance limitations. If you provide them with a variety of solutions, it makes it easier for them to simply pick one of those solutions and move forward with it. 

Ultimately, however, unless they are under the age of 18 and you are their legal guardian, it is up to them to obtain the help they need. If they are struggling with the idea of getting help, the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers some advice on how to convince someone to seek help for their mental health. 

Do Some Research: 

It may be helpful to do some research on their mental health condition to obtain more information about what they are going through. However, you will want to make sure you are using reputable sites to obtain accurate information such as: The National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health America, and Mental Health.gov. You can also visit our services page for more information about some mental health concerns 

Better yet, schedule a consultation with a therapist to discuss certain mental health conditions so you can learn more and ask questions from a professional in the field who specializes in helping others with their mental health. Depending on your relationship with the loved one, you may even be able to sit in during a session to gain a better understanding. 

Ask Them: 

Although doing your own research can help you to better understand how their particular mental health condition affects people as a whole, asking them how it affects them can show them that you are trying to be supportive. It can also help them be more self-aware when they have to question what it is they want or need. Keep in mind, however, that they may not always be able to give you a clear answer. Nevertheless, it is still important to continually give them the opportunity to voice things with you. It is also important that you recognize whether or not their requests are doable and whether or not you are in a position to provide that specific type of support. 

Listen to Their Limits: 

At the end of the day, you are not their therapist. If they are expressing a limitation to you, listen. You shouldn’t try and force them to extend beyond their limits because that could have serious implications for their mental health. Instead, support them in their decision and practice active listening strategies if they volunteer to talk about it. Remember that this limitation may only be a temporary thing and that they will likely be able to get past it eventually. Today may not be that day, and it’s okay. 

Cook Them a Good Meal: 

Often times people who are struggling with their mental health may find it difficult to eat right. Depending on their individual situation, some people will binge on junk food, eat unhealthy processed foods that can be easily microwaved, or avoid eating altogether. Overtime, this can cause a range of health problems that can negatively affect their physical and mental health. 

One friend texting on her phone and the other friend cooking for her

You can help make sure they eat healthy and properly portioned amounts of food by cooking them a meal or helping them to meal prep. Depending on your relationship, this may be easier for some than it is for others. For example, if they are your significant other, simply offer to cook for a few days. If it is a friend, maybe you could offer to take them to the grocery store and help them prepare meals for a few days. 

Encourage Them to Exercise: 

Exercise can help produce endorphins, relieve anxiety, and simply get the blood flowing. Now, you don’t need to collectively sign up for a triathlon or become the next Olympic team to reap the benefits of exercising. Even just taking a short walk outside or doing a little dancing inside can help get them moving. Buzzfeed even offers 14 different exercises that you guys can do lying down. 

Provide Support to Yourself: 

Supporting a loved one who struggles with their mental health can be draining, emotional, and stressful. These are all normal reactions and you shouldn’t feel guilty for experiencing them. Instead, you should take steps to ensure that you can maintain your own mental health while helping your loved one with theirs. 

Woman talking to counselor

Often times, discussing your feelings with a licensed therapist is beneficial because they will provide unbiased advice and solutions. Additionally, they are experienced with mental health conditions and can help you to understand more about the individual you are trying to support. Finally, therapy provides you with a safe place to release pent up emotions so that you don’t have to carry them around with you constantly. 

Overall, supporting someone’s mental health can be challenging because of the simple fact that it is not as straightforward as managing someone’s physical health. Providing support for a loved one’s mental health can also challenge your own mental health. Because mental health can be tricky at times, NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy recommends scheduling a consultation with a licensed mental health counselor to discuss the best strategies for yourself and your loved one. 

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