Last week, we wrote about how a good social support system of friends can help strengthen our mental health. Friends benefit us by providing a sense of belonging, keeping us motivated, and supporting us through challenging times, among other things. So in this article, we thought it would be a good idea to demonstrate specific ways that friends and family members can support those struggling with mental health issues, as well as to highlight support resources in the community beyond friends and family.
How To Support Friends Or Family With Mental Illness
First, know that there is no ‘one size fits all’ way to support someone with a behavioral health issue. How you provide support depends on their issues and needs, as well as your relationship with them. But at the top of the list is knowing the warning signs of mental health problems; in fact, you may be able to spot these before someone recognizes them in themselves. For example, if someone withdraws from social interaction, or has unusual problems functioning at school or work, or has dramatic changes in sleep and appetite, it may be a good idea to encourage them to see a medical professional to rule out specific mental health issues.
The following are additional ways to offer support:
Offer to be available for support. They may not even realize you are ready to be there for them, so make sure that they know they are not alone. Reassure them that you care about them – even if they don’t always feel like talking or being with you, it can be a comfort just to know that you care.
Ask what you can do to help. You can leave this open-ended (“I want to know how I can best support you.”) or suggest specific tasks that might be helpful (“Can I drive you to your appointment?”).
Don't try to diagnose or second guess their feelings. Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your own diagnosis or solutions.
Listen patiently. Allow the person to talk openly with you without hearing dismissal of their thoughts or feelings. If they choose to share personal information with you, don’t share it with others. (However, if you hear talk of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Option 1)
Stay calm and low-key. It’s possible that the person you care for may have very challenging and complex behavior.
Talk about suggestions for wellbeing. For example, ways of de-stressing or practicing self-care like exercising, eating a healthy diet, and getting a good night’s sleep.
Experts advise that in supporting a friend with mental health issues, you don’t need to be available 24/7. Nor should you put yourself in danger to watch over your friend, or stay in a relationship that’s not working for you. At the end of the day, you aren’t responsible for another person’s mental health, so take care of yourself while you are taking care of them.
Finding Local & National Support Mental Health Resources
Beyond the support of family and friends, there are also community resources for mental health, and even resources at the national level – all of which can provide helpful information and services. To find help at a local level, reach out to medical professionals, and also check your local library, place of worship, or community center to learn about nearby resources. The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors lists the names and contact information of public officials who head up each state’s mental health program.
Also consider joining a virtual or in-person support group to connect with people who are facing similar mental health diagnoses or are caring for someone with similar issues. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has an online resource that can direct you to local support groups, as does the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
At the national level, we have a Mental Health Crisis Resource Center to locate not-for-profit organizations and government entities provide high-quality information and resources for various types of behavioral health issues.
Considering A Career In Telebehavioral Health Or Know Someone Who Could Benefit From Virtual Access To Licensed Behavioral Health Professionals?
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