How to Help a Family Member with Mental Illness

In the past, if someone was living with a mental illness, they probably didn’t talk about it, and might have had trouble seeking out proper mental health care. More than likely, they kept it buried deep inside, didn’t confide in anyone, and did their best to suffer through it without help. Thankfully, that’s not the world we live in today. 

Now, discussions about mental health are more open, honest, and liberating than they’ve ever been before. The world is coming to realize that many people deal with anxiety, depression, and other similar conditions, and we’re learning how to talk about mental health, how to help one another through our struggles, and how to live with mental illness.

Mental Illness

But, that’s the key factor: we’re learning. When it comes to the mental health conversation, there’s still a lot of room for improvement, but the first step in figuring out how to talk about new things is to just start talking. 

So, if you’re wondering how to help a family member with mental illness, you’re in the right place. This post will help prepare you for candid discussions about mental illness, and how to support those who struggle with mental health (even if that person is you).  

How to Talk about Mental Health

How to Help a Family Member with Mental Illness

Mental Health

Mental health care is essential to living a balanced life, so finding the time to talk about it is important.

If you need to talk about your mental health struggles with someone, make sure to carve out some time to do so. These conversations need to be heartfelt, genuine, and unrushed. Set aside an appropriate amount of time. We recommend at least 30 to 60 minutes. 

How to Help a Family Member with Mental Illness

Be as open and honest as you can be. Whether you’re the one listening, the one sharing, or a combination of both, one of the best ways to discuss topics you’re unfamiliar with is simply to be transparent about the things you don’t currently understand. Then, if you’re the one listening to a loved one’s struggles, be clear about how you want to understand it as best you can.

Keep the conversation open. Talking about mental health doesn’t have to end when your time’s up—you can always continue the conversation at another time. These discussions should be an open-ended opportunity to continue to learn about these difficult (and often painful) mental health challenges. 

How to Help a Family Member with Mental Illness

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Mental illness is real. Don’t try to ignore it or easily accept someone’s claims that they’re “just fine.” If you know they’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, or if you think that their mental health is at risk, there are specific things you can do to help and ways to develop better support habits. Those support habits include the following:

Encourage Them to Seek Help: If it seems that your loved one is dealing with something related to mental health, try to have a conversation about it that encourages them to seek help and find out if something is going on. 

Accept the Emotions You and They Are Feeling: Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be a trying time for those who are coping with the diagnosis and the loved ones of the diagnosed individual—accept that you’re both likely feeling a lot of different emotions and will need time and patience to sort through them. 

Discuss Finding Peer Support Groups: You can’t take on caring for your family member all by yourself, and it’s likely you don’t know exactly how to empathize with their experiences. Suggest support groups with peers who’ve experienced the same thing they’re going through.

Be a Balanced Support: Support them in any way you can. This can be anything from giving them sincere compliments, to taking them out to lunch, to helping them tidy up their home. This will get easier as time goes on and as you both learn about which areas they’re struggling in most. 

How to Help a Family Member with Mental Illness,

Avoid trying to be the hero or savior to a family member with mental illness. It’s important not to try to fix them, ask them to pretend to be ok, or downplay how serious their problems are. It’s also important to not give false “encouragement” by telling them it will be over soon, or that a given remedy will solve their problem.

It can be difficult to show support without using toxic positivity or downplaying the severity of their condition. When in doubt, though, you can always validate their feelings, and remind them how much you care about them. 

How to Tell Someone About Your Mental Health

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There’s no hard or fast rule about who you can talk to about your mental health, but you do want to be careful who you choose to be open with. Not everyone is prepared to treat your condition as a real illness, and many will suggest overly reductive “solutions” (and often aggressively advocate for them). 

Start by choosing people who genuinely care for you—such as people who have supported you through other hardships. If they’ve been understanding of other difficulties you’ve suffered through (especially if they were emotional difficulties, such as grief), that’s a good sign that they’ll be willing to learn about your struggles.

Next, consider how open-minded and willing they are when it comes to understanding another’s perspective. Typically, people who have /dealt with painful emotions or mental struggles of their own tend to be more empathetic to the emotional needs of others. Be direct about your need to confide in them. Ask them for a dedicated time where you can explain what you’re feeling and, if necessary, ask them to reserve judgment and just listen to your story. 

How to Help a Family Member with a Mental Illness

It may take time to find those people who will show you the support you need, and some may take a little coaching to recognize what’s helpful and what’s not, but as we all open up in healthy ways and begin the discussion, it will become easier and easier to talk about mental illness, and easier for those friends to help us. 

Below are some suggestions to help you figure out how to tell someone about your mental health:

Write it Down: Write down a list of what you want to tell the person. 

Find Sources: Research articles and informative websites that can help explain what you’re going to talk about. 

Plan It: Try to set up a scheduled time where you can sit down and discuss it without distractions.

There are many ways to talk about mental health, whether you’re trying to figure out how to talk about mental health in general, learning how to tell someone about your mental health, or searching for ways to help a family member with mental illness. Each of these topics is interrelated, and the more you practice one, the better you’ll become at all of them. Engaging through active listening, empathy, and understanding can help when learning how to help a family member with mental illness.

*If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (800-662-4357) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) today.