9 Ways to Help a Loved One Cope with a Mental Illness

Compassionately supporting a loved one through a mental illness is easier if you know where to start.

Couple sitting together to talk about mental health.

When someone you love is experiencing mental health issues, you may feel like there’s little you can do to support them. You may even fear that addressing such a sensitive topic won’t help or make matters worse.

If you could use some advice and tips to better support a loved one with a mental health issue, consider these nine starting points.

1. Become comfortable talking about mental health

Discussing the details of a mental health crisis may feel uncomfortable. You might worry about supporting someone because you don’t completely understand their circumstances.

However, if talking about mental health isn’t your forte, start by educating yourself about the topic. Be willing to walk through uncomfortable situations with your loved one while providing your continuous support.

The more you talk about mental health, the more comfortable and knowledgeable you’ll be with supporting someone who is struggling.

2. Use “I” statements

When helping someone through a mental illness, show your concern by sharing “I” statements rather than “you” statements. An “I” statement could be, “I am worried about your wellbeing,” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been quieter lately. I’m here for you if you’d like to talk about anything.”

These “I” statements express your concern in a meaningful way. Avoid sharing “You” statements like, “You should go talk to a professional,” or “You’re acting weird lately—what’s going on?”

3. Embrace curiosity

Everyone’s history with mental health is uniquely theirs, and how people cope with mental illness differs from person to person. Try embracing a healthy, compassionate sense of curiosity when supporting someone who’s navigating a mental health crisis.

Approaching someone’s experience with mental illness with judgment-free curiosity opens your mind to new possibilities and creative solutions.

4. Listen, listen, and then listen

When the time is right, let your loved one share as little or as much as they’re comfortable with about their mental health. Try repeating back what you hear to ensure you’re understanding what they tell you.

As you listen to their experience, avoid oversharing your own experiences and beliefs. Find a time to talk in a place that’s free of distractions, so you can really listen and understand their situation.

5. Avoid making assumptions

It’s easy to generalize and make quick judgments as you listen to others talk about their mental health. While you are listening, try to avoid making assumptions about their crisis or how you think they should feel.

6. Research the mental illness or crisis

Educating yourself about the situation will help you understand your loved one’s experience even better. It will also help deepen your sympathy and compassion as you help support others through their mental health challenges—and, perhaps, as you experience your own.

7. Set realistic expectations and goals

Helping to set realistic expectations and goals for their recovery or improvement is a game-changer. It’s appropriate to take small steps, establish obtainable goals, have patience, and be realistic. Remember: there is no playbook for navigating a mental health crisis.

8. Take time for yourself

Supporting someone through their mental health journey can put a strain on your own mental health. Try to set and follow appropriate relationship boundaries as you help someone through their own struggles. Taking time for yourself is also important to avoid potential burnout or stress.

9. Encourage them to talk with a professional

You don’t need to support someone all by yourself, nor should you. If you feel like your loved one needs extra help, encourage them to talk with a mental health professional. Many professionals are easily accessible and ready to support, both online and in-person.

Related: Know the Warning Signs of Suicide and Get Help

Helping others through their journey with mental health may seem overwhelming, but with these tips and the right resources, you’ll both navigate the experience with compassion and success.

Related: Caring for Mental Health During Life Transitions

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