When you see a loved one going through a tough time, it’s totally normal to want to jump in and fix things. But here’s the thing: sometimes, our good intentions can end up causing more harm than good. So, the next time you’re in that situation, try these steps instead of rushing to “fix” everything:
Listen: If you’re not sure how to begin, just start by really listening to your loved one. Be there for them, show you care, and be empathetic to what they’re going through. Give them your undivided attention, be supportive, and let them know their emotions and feelings are valid. Make it a safe zone for them to open up and encourage them to share their experiences.
Wondering what to say to encourage your loved one to open up to you? Try this:
- I have noticed that something has been off lately, and I would like to better understand what you are going through. I will just listen.
- Something seems off. Can you tell me what is going on? I will listen and try to understand. I love you no matter what.
- I may not fully understand what you are going through but I would like to try.
Ask: The easiest way to find out how to be helpful to your loved one is to ask! Everyone’s needs are unique, so it’s important to respect what they want (except in crisis situations). Supporting your loved one can be as simple as just sharing space, checking in, helping schedule appointments, or being an accountability buddy.
Wondering how to ask your loved one how you can help? Try this:
- I can see that you are dealing with something. What is the best way to support you?
- I am worried about you, can we talk?
- If you are not comfortable talking to me, who would you be comfortable talking to?
- If I notice concerning behavior(s), how would you like me to approach you with my concerns?
Privacy: Even though we’re working on breaking the mental health stigma, your loved ones may still feel awkward about opening up. They might not be ready or just want to keep their feelings private. So, make sure you reassure your loved one that whatever they share with you stays between you two (unless there’s a real need to involve others). Trust is key.
Wondering what to say to protect your loved one’s privacy and trust? Try this:
- I know talking about this is hard and I want to let you know that I won’t discuss this with family or friends without your permission.
Educate: Get to know what your loved one’s dealing with when it comes to their mental health. Find out all about the symptoms, how they can be treated, and where to find help. Knowing the specifics will help you give the right kind of support and steer clear of any misunderstandings. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has many great resources on its website https://www.nami.org/Home. Go take a look!
Understand Your Resources: Here is a list of national and state-based resources!
Means Removal: If your loved one is going through tough times with suicidal thoughts or impulsivity, it’s crucial to take some precautions. Remove firearms and alcohol from the house and keep a close eye on their medications or create a safety plan together.
Take Care of Yourself: Supporting a loved one with mental health struggles can be emotionally demanding. Make sure to take care of yourself too! Support groups where you can hear stories similar to yours can be helpful and a great resource. Set healthy boundaries, so you can be there for your loved one without neglecting your own needs. It’s totally normal to feel all kinds of emotions – overwhelmed, scared, frustrated, you name it. Don’t beat yourself up for having these feelings, it’s all part of the process.
You Don’t Need to Have All the Answers: Remember, you don’t have to be a superhero with all the solutions. It’s okay not to know everything. Both you and your loved one are figuring things out together.
Celebrate Wins: If your loved one finds it helpful, praise, reinforce and notice the positive improvements they are making in their lives no matter how small. Don’t force the praise, but something as simple as giving a hug and saying “it is nice to see you at breakfast today” is a great way to celebrate a win.
Provide Practical Assistance: If you can, provide practical help. Babysit the kids so your loved one can go to therapy or even make a lifestyle change with your loved one – whatever they need.
Limit Reassurance: This is for people who experience anxiety. Often when people are dealing with mental health concerns, they get stuck in a loop of seeking reassurance all the time. Sure, it might bring some quick relief, but in the long run, it doesn’t really solve the problem and just makes them seek reassurance again and again. The goal is to get people to handle their feelings and work through their fears. Instead of reassurance, provide truthful and loving answers. Help them use their inner strength and coping skills to stay grounded.
Wondering how to truthfully respond when your loved one seeks reassurance? Try this:
- Instead of Saying: Everything will be perfect. Say: I am not sure how everything is going to turn out. I do know that I love and believe in you no matter what happens.
- Instead of Saying: Yes, I think that is what you should do. Say: I trust and believe in your ability to make the best choices for you.
Will My Loved One Get Better?
Yes. People can and do bounce back from depression and anxiety. There are plenty of ways to treat them, depending on what works for each person. It might involve therapy, medication, lifestyle, and behavior change, getting more support, or connecting with others. Just remember, “better” does not always mean gone. For some people, their symptoms may not disappear, but they’ll learn how to recognize, deal with, and manage their symptoms in an effective way.
What Causes Anxiety and Depression?
Anxiety and Depression are very common and can be very complex. The cause is often a combination of different factors such as genes, biology, lifestyle, environment, how we think, our personalities, culture, and medical factors.
Will Talking About Suicide Increase the Risk of Suicide?
No, this is a myth! It is a common misconception that asking someone directly about suicidal thoughts can increase the risk or plant the idea in their mind. Asking someone about their suicide risk in a loving and supportive fashion will not increase their risk of suicide—being open and caring will help them feel understood and supported.
Learning how to support your loved one in the way they need takes time, but these suggestions will help you. The most important thing you can do is love, so take courage and love wholeheartedly!