Watching someone you love suffer from mental illness can be a heartbreaking challenge. But there are many ways to mitigate their illness in your relationship while supporting them throughout their journey.
Here are just a few things to keep in mind when you love someone with a mental illness.
Understand their illness
Sometimes symptoms feel personal. A lack of communication. Difficulty concentrating. No interest in shared activities. It’s important to learn everything you can about your loved one’s mental illness so you can be supportive while also protecting your own peace of mind.
It’s also important to understand the nuances of mental illness. If your loved one was having an asthma attack, you wouldn’t tell them, “Hey, just try harder at breathing.” It’s the same with mental illness. A person can’t will themself out of a depressive episode or turn off their PTSD. Mental illnesses are scientific, physiological conditions that need to be treated as such.
When we empathize with the people we love, we can lessen their pain. By providing judgment-free companionship, we can be part of fighting off the loneliness and shame that often accompany mental illness.
But empathy looks different than many of us imagine it. It’s not comparing a person’s situation to others and saying, “Well at least it’s not as bad as…” “At least” statements can invalidate a person’s experience and create a sense of guilt for struggling with their own circumstances. Instead, opt for affirmations like, “I know you’re having a hard time,” or “I don’t know how to help you, but I’m sorry you’re hurting.” By validating their feelings and providing your unconditional support, you can be part of their healing.
Mental illnesses can persist for many years. There are highs and lows. Good days and bad ones. Believing there’s a timetable for healing can set you and your loved one up for disappointment and resentment.
Practice patience both with yourself, your loved one, and the illness. Celebrate the good days, show empathy on the bad days, and resolve to be there when they need your support the most.
You can also show you care by encouraging your loved one to seek help. At Valley Oaks Health, we have various counseling and support group options that can support both of you throughout this journey.