How to support a loved one who is affected by mental illness

Supporting a loved one on the sometimes winding road of mental illness is a challenge. If you are affected by this, take the time to read on.

Mental illness and its issues

Living a healthy life is not only a question of maintaining your physical health, but also your mental health. Until mental illness comes into our life or the life of a loved one, we are not always aware of the devastating effects it can have. When it happens, it’s comforting to have a loving family and friends to rely on.

Mental illness has many faces. Among the most common, are:

  • depression
  • anxiety disorders
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia, and
  • personality disorders

Mental health issues have far-reaching implications on many levels. Aside from the mental and emotional suffering it causes for the people affected by it or those close to them, it frequently gives rise to related problems such as:

  • relationship and social problems
  • isolation
  • absenteeism from work or difficulty accomplishing professional responsibilities
  • excessive substance abuse (tobacco, alcohol, drugs, etc.), and
  • other health problems

Strength through unity

When someone is affected by mental illness there are many challenges, but they are not insurmountable! Support and active involvement by family and friends are some of the key elements in taking charge of a person’s health and well-being in a healthy and effective way. Whether you are a parent, brother, sister, child, spouse or friend, you can play a vital role. It is easier to face mental illness as a team than alone!

When offering support to someone living with mental illness, small things can make a big difference. Here are some tips on how to help you offer better support to a loved one who is at grips with this type of disorder:

  • Even if you feel as though you don’t recognize the person you care about, don’t worry. Adequate treatment of the illness will help the person get back to their best again. The process may take more or less time depending on the individual. Be patient.
  • Find out as much as you can about the disorder affecting your loved one so that you can better understand their reactions and behaviours and to adapt your own to the situation.
  • Find out what resources are available in your area, peer or support groups, assistance with daily living, community or drop-in centres, etc.
  • Accompany the person to their medical appointments if they wish you to. Show your loved one that their well-being is important to you.
  • Highlight the progress they are making. Emphasize the efforts the person has made to take better care of their health.
  • Respect your boundaries. If you feel that you need support yourself, don’t hesitate to ask for it from family members and friends or from health professionals. No one is invincible, so be sure to take some time for yourself to rest and to get away and enjoy yourself. You will then be back in force to fulfill your role as a caregiver.
  • Consider talking to a psychologist or find a confidant, a person with whom you will be able to share your concerns, emotions and to whom you can ask for advice.
  • Learn to better manage stress. Consider using relaxation techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises.
  • Learn to delegate. If you try to do everything yourself to perfection, you will become exhausted. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, such as for household tasks.
  • Be proactive while trying to preserve your loved one’s autonomy, self-esteem and freedom. Don’t tell them what to do, instead, listen to their wants and needs. The “I know what’s best more than you do”, is often not the best approach!

If someone you care about is dealing with mental illness, be there for them. It’s normal to feel disconcerted or powerless, that’s why it’s important to know when and where to seek help. Getting involved by offering your best is the most valuable gift you can give.

For more information and advice, visit the La Fédération des familles et amis de la personne atteinte de maladie mentale (FFAPAMM) [Federation of Families and Friends of People with Mental Illness] “Avant de craquer” [Before You Break] network at (French only).


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How to support a loved one who is affected by mental illness

Supporting a loved one on the sometimes winding road of mental illness is a challenge. If you are affected by this, take the time to read on.
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