Supporting Someone with a Mental Illness

When Lauren from It’s Lauren Victoria messaged me to say she’d be happy to write a guest post for my mental health series, I had no idea she would produce such an incredible and comprehensive and useful post. So here is your wonderful one stop shop to supporting others who are dealing with any form of mental health issue.

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Hello there! What a great opportunity it is to guest post about mental health over on Rachel’s blog and speak about something that is so crucial to helping those who suffer with mental health. This includes the support we offer the sufferer. This might be through their recovery or through difficult days. Even from a sufferers point of view, I can understand how difficult it is to see your loved one suffer a form of mental health illness. It can also be tough to know what to do or say with regards to the matter. It can create a lot of tension and friction between those suffering and those who care for you. No doubt as the supporter, you’ll end up feeling hopeless and frustrated that you can’t do anything to help make this person better.

But sometimes it’s the smallest things that can make the biggest difference. Providing the one you love who is suffering with an effective support network is crucial for a strong recovery or method of managing the illness they suffer with. This post aims to provide you with some tips, advice and methods of how you can increase the sufferers support network by learning how you can support those suffering, what’s helpful and what isn’t helping, how to react and handle bad mental health days, as well as how you can learn about mental health to support the individual or anyone in the future you might come across who may also suffer.

How to support those who are suffering –

  • Find out if they need any further help or care – This might include any help from a professional like a doctor, counsellor, psychologist, etc, any medication they might want to take to help them or any previous medication that has helped before, as well as asking if they need any further support from you.

  • Express your concerns – Being aware and making them aware that you can see the changes within them, whether this is a good or bad change, is helpful to make people feel less alone, even more normal in some ways and that you have noticed a change in them. Remind them of the support you can offer them whenever they need it.

  • Remind them that help is out there and it can be treated – Always provide them with hope and optimism for getting better, that they don’t have to suffer in silence and can make a change to getting back on track.

  • Create a conversation with regards to how they feel – Ask them questions, like how they are feeling or if anything is bothering them currently, listen to them and be responsive to whatever they say. Don’t ever ignore them even if you don’t know how to respond. Try your best!

  • Offer help with everyday tasks – Sometimes those suffering need help to do dailsks, like doing the washing up, ironing the clothes or popping to the shop, from time to time offer to do it for them or tag along with them to the shop. Don’t completely restrict them from their Independence though unless they are far too ill to accomplish anything right now.

  • Include and make future plans with them – Just because they suffer, doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy activities with you. Some day’s they might feel really up to it and want to do fun things with you, whilst other days will be more challenging. Still include them in things and make them have something to look forward to.

  • Educate and break the stigma – Educate yourself the best you can on mental health, whether this is a specific illness or a range of ones. Help to break the stigma and also learn to deal better with it yourself when helping others. Don’t be a part of the stigma!

  • Treat them with compassion, empathy and respect – Don’t judge. Don’t be rude. Don’t insult them. Try understand how they must be feeling and how your comments might affect them.

What not to say….

  • ‘Try be active, distract yourself from it and be busy!’ – This doesn’t work. No matter how hard they try distract themselves from how they feel, try carry out a busy lifestyle and be active, it won’t help and is only ignoring the real issue that is going on inside.

  • ‘Don’t you want to get better?’ – Of course the sufferer does! No one wants to be that way. The same when you want to recover from the flu. But people saying things like only aids to the situation. It makes those suffering feel bad, that they have brought this all on their self. It’s hurtful and implying we’re far too lazy to try get better.

  • ‘Change your attitude’ – This is somewhat helpful in the long run, but it’s not a cure to overcoming the illness. It can be difficult and a lot of hard work to change the way we think, which ends up leaving us feeling exhausted.

  • ‘Stop focusing on the bad and just live your life’ – This is also hurtful. It again makes the sufferer feel guilty about their self and that they are a failure because of it.

  • ‘You have everything you need to get better’ – A comment like this makes it out like the individual is being ungrateful and not trying hard enough to make an improvement.

  • ‘You can get over it. We all feel this way sometimes’ – A lack of understanding. Makes you feel lazy and like you’re lacking in effort, like you’re making up excuses as to why you can’t, wondering what the hell is wrong with you and why you’re abnormal to the rest.

  • ‘I have that…’ or ‘…..has that.’ – This can be triggering for many people. If finished with a negative outcome, it can make feel horrified and fear their illnesses more. You might think it’s reassuring to tell them they’re not alone, but it just aids to the situation and make things worse, if not only more negative for them.

  • ‘It’s all in your head’ – Well  yes, in some senses it is. It’s a mental health condition. It’s in my brain. The most important organ in the body. But I always suffer in other parts of my body and life.

  • You have so much to live for’ – Mental health doesn’t discriminate. You could be the most richest, most attractive, fabulous person in the world or you could be poor, homeless and a cruel personality but still suffer.

  • ‘I can’t do anything about your situation’ –  You might not be able to and that’s ok. But show some compassion, support and help, sometimes that’s even enough.
  • ‘Just snap out of it!’ – This is just more pressure to get better and to move on like it’s super easy to do.

  • ‘You’ll be fine, stop worrying’ – Don’t tell people they’ll be fine, if you don’t know that they will for sure. This only makes matters worse if things don’t end up ‘fine’.

  • ‘Shouldn’t you be better now?’ – This is so judgemental! Everyone’s recovery is different in terms of method and time. Don’t set an expectation for those to somehow meet.

  • ‘You don’t look unwell’ – You cannot see this illness no, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It’s the same as some physical illnesses, you can’t see them, but does that mean they don’t exist? Instead show some interest and ask what’s the matter.

  • ‘Why do you let things get to you?’ – Everyone copes/deals with things better, some feel things more and react to them more easily, others find it easier to manage things better. Everyone’s different! Don’t make people feel bad.

  • ‘People have it so much worse than you.’ – This only makes the sufferer feel guilty and stupid for suffering the way they do. Don’t let them feel guilty for something that they can’t control. Someone’s trauma does not discount yours.

  • ‘Why don’t you just smile more and be happy?’ – This is so pointless. It’s not some magic cure that will make it all go away. Sure the individual can have happy days and can smile, but it doesn’t mean their suffering just suddenly stops and doesn’t come back.

  • You should be…..’ – Just stop with the ‘should’s!!!!’ it screams judgement from the word go. Avoid saying it all together, not even those who suffer with mental health, but everyone!

What to say/do instead…

  • ‘I’m so sorry to hear that. That must be tough.’ – Sincerely express your concern without coming across as patronising.

  • ‘How can I help in any way?’ – Offer your help and support.

  • Talk to them in the same way you always have done, including having the same feelings and respect. Don’t alter  your relationship with them just for the individuals sake. Keep things as normal as possible. Continue that stable connection. They’re still the same person. 

  • Don’t change the subject when speaking about mental health. Continue talking about it as long as the individual wants to.

  • Resist the temptation to give advice or dismiss concerns.

  • Be loyal and trustworthy – keep confidential when it comes to their concerns and their matters. Don’t go gossiping about what they’re suffering with. It will take a lot of coverage for them to even speak out about it to you, so don’t make them regret it.

  • Reassure them that you care

  • Educate yourself

  • Remember to take care of you too

  • ‘Your illness is real. I believe you. That is what causes those thoughts and feelings’ – make them feel more accepted, less alone and less abnormal. Also shows you are aware and understand.

  • ‘You’re important to me. So is your life.’ – remind them that their worth is so important and that the mean so much to you will help them feel needed.

  • ‘Tell me how I can help you.’ – Showing that you’re willing to try for them!

  • ‘You will be able to change the way you feel’ – Giving them hope, belief and something to focus on through this hard time.

  • ‘You’re not alone in this. I am here for you’

  • ‘Talk to me. I am listening’ – Again less alone and supported!

  • ‘We will get through this together’ 

How to react and handle those bad mental health days…

  • Don’t be in denial about it. Instead accept it and try to move forward – Accept what it is and try your best to support the sufferer the best you possibly can through these difficult times. Make them aware that you can see that they are finding it tough and know that help is always there whenever they may need it.

  • Practice ways together on how to manage these days better – Every bad day is another chance to practice techniques of managing better and finding what’s right for you. Work together to make the sufferer feel less alone and also give you a greater understanding of how to respond.

  • Respect whatever it is they are going through and avoid being judgemental – There isn’t no certain way to respond to what is going on, but ensuring you’re being respectful and not judging is crucial.

  • Be aware of your own feelings and opinions – Your attitude towards the illness will probably change over time. This is normal. The more you learn and accept it, the more chance you have of working through it together.

  • Things that have worked before, might not be as beneficial this time – This is normal with mental health as it’s so unpredictable. But don’t give up. Try your hardest.

  • Remember your own needs and seek help for you if need be – Remember that your needs are also important if you are spending so much time caring for another. Remember you’re also important and need time to recharge your own batteries. This is completely fine and the sufferer will understand. They will probably even encourage you to take a step back. Also seeking help for yourself or even for advice to dealing with the individual is also helpful.

  • Don’t absorb the negative and allow them to control you – If your loved one is having a bad day and feeling awful, then don’t also have a bad day and feel terrible. Instead, set a positive example and don’t let the illness also control you.

  • Reflect the feelings, but don’t catch the emotions – Show your understanding, but don’t catch on to the emotions from the sufferer. This will prevent you from taking on the other persons problems or emotions. Speak to them about the issue, but without the same emotion in your voice.

How you can learn about mental health…

A number of different organisations, charities and websites offer support for those caring for their loved ones who have a mental health problem. There are a number of different resources you can look into to build your knowledge, learn new methods and skills in how to care for them better. Also there are support groups and helplines that also offer the support you might need. You might also want to purchase or rent out some books regarding Mental Health to improve your knowledge and understanding about the issue, as well as some books that might target being the support. Another thing you can do is contacting your GP or speaking to your loved ones counsellor/therapist if they are receiving treatment for the way they feel.

Here are some useful sources that will provide these services to you:

Carers Trust

Rethink 

Health Direct

Mental Healthcare

Way Ahead

Mind

Sane

Psychology Today

Apa

Mental Health First Aid

NHS

Hopefully this post has helped to give you an insight in how you can support those suffering with mental illness whether it’s a family member, friend, a colleague, an acquaintance or even just a stranger you meet. Remembering to be respectful, supportive and helpful is one of the most important and easiest ways of being there for those who suffer with mental health. Applying all the other things takes practice, but also makes the world of difference in building that healthy support network for the sufferer.

?? Lauren blogs at It’s Lauren Victoria. You can find her on Twitter here.

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