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Supporting A Loved One with a Mental Illness

Supporting a loved one with a mental illness

11 Tips to help a loved one.

Depression and Anxiety is Painful for Everyone

Supporting a loved one with mental illness can challenge even the most dedicated and loving family members. Even in a place like Denver which boasts over 300 sunny days a year, Mary’s depression and anxiety are so bad she can’t get out of bed most days. Tom thinks of ending his life daily. John doesn’t cry, but he can’t get anything done, overeats, and feels numb. Depression and anxiety do not discriminate, and they can be demanding not only for the person experiencing these illnesses but also, for those who love them.

At a time when 32% of Colorado citizens are exhibiting symptoms of either major depressive disorder or anxiety, you may feel helpless, frustrated, angry, guilty or sad about your loved one’s current state of mental health. Depression and anxiety are serious but treatable disorder that can affect anyone at any age. In a state that ranks 43 out of 50 for mental health even before the pandemic, you may be the most crucial component to your loved one’s recovery.

Before Supporting A Loved One with a Mental Illness, Take Care of Yourself First

Supporting a loved one with a mental illness is not easy. It requires patience, empathy, and a thick skin to handle the serious symptoms of depression and anxiety, and the hurtful things that are said and done as a result. It’s important that your own well-being is as much as a priority as your loved one’s depression. If you can remember the days before the pandemic at Denver International Airport, the flight attendant always recommends you put on your own oxygen mask before assisting anyone else. What this means is that you maintain your own emotional reserves by doing things that keep you happy and well, including finding your own support systems whether they are through friends, family, therapists, support groups, or counselors.

It may also mean setting boundaries to avoid burnout and resentment. Suffering in silence may lead to long-term damage. Working with a therapist may be helpful in developing the emotional vocabulary you need to gently and honestly communicate your boundaries and restore your emotional reserves.

Learn about the Illness

One of the best ways of supporting a loved one with a mental illness is to learn about it.

There are many different types of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders and bipolar disorder. There are also many different kinds of symptoms that can come along with these illnesses—for example, someone who has obsessive-compulsive disorder might have unwanted thoughts or images in their head (obsessions) that they feel compelled to perform certain behaviors over and over again (compulsions). Someone who has depression may feel very sad all the time and have trouble sleeping or eating. And someone with schizophrenia might have difficulty telling what’s real from what isn’t real, see things or hear voices other people don’t see or hear, have strange beliefs such as thinking they can read minds or control people’s actions by thinking about them strongly enough—these are just some examples out of hundreds available!

If you know someone who seems like they might be struggling with one of these illnesses but haven’t told anyone yet, it can help for you to do some research about what would be a good first step for them. Perhaps making an appointment at their doctor’s office so they can talk about their symptoms? Or maybe getting into therapy so they begin developing skills needed when dealing with stressful situations both now and later down the road? In any case though make sure not assume anything before asking questions because this could potentially make things worse, rather than better, if done incorrectly.

Ask a Loved One What THEY Need to Manage Their Mental Illness

Ask your loved one what you can do to help. Everyone deals with depression and anxiety differently. Sometimes, they may know what they need but need help to articulate it. Listen without judgment and try not to offer solutions or advice unless you are asked. It’s also important to respect their privacy, but also check in on them if they seem unusually quiet or distressed. If they act as though they don’t want to talk about it, don’t pressure them into an uncomfortable conversation about their depression and anxiety if they don’t want to discuss it just yet—it’s okay for them to take their time working through this issue on their own terms!

The next time you feel angry or frustrated at someone who has an issue with mental health, try to take a step back and look at the situation objectively. Try to figure out what your emotions are telling you about yourself. Maybe it’s that they make you feel insecure, or nervous, or vulnerable in some way. Maybe they remind you of past negative experiences that have caused trauma for you. The key here is not to assign blame onto the person with mental health issues—this is just what usually happens when we experience strong feelings about something other than ourselves.

Being able to separate yourself from another person’s actions can be difficult when dealing with someone who has a diagnosed mental illness (or even just struggles from time-to-time), but it can be helpful in helping both parties understand where each other are coming from and why certain behaviors might be happening more often than others. Finding help from a therapist or a counselor for yourself may also make it easier when it comes to supporting a loved one with a mental illness.

Minimize Distractions When Supporting a Loved One With a Mental Illness

One of the easiest ways to support someone who is struggling with their mental health is by minimizing distractions. It’s crucial that you don’t set any unnecessary barriers between the person and their own recovery. This means turning off the TV and music, closing your laptop, turning phones on silent, putting the lights off (or dimmed), closing doors and windows, and even switching off doorbells if possible.

You may find yourself tempted not to do these things because they seem like inconveniences for you—but remember that in this moment it’s about what is best for them.

Make plans with them

Making plans with a loved one is one of the most powerful things you can do to help them, because it shows you care and that you’re willing to take time out of your day to spend with them, even when they’re not at their best. If they’re in a bad place, trying to figure out what they want to do can be stressful, so offer up plenty of options and be willing to go wherever they want. Here are some ideas:

  • Go out for food or drinks (maybe even both).
  • Watch a movie together at home or at the theater. You could even host an all-night movie marathon!
  • Check out live music performances in your area (by local bands or touring acts). If none are happening that night, find out if there’s anything else fun going on in town—then see if your friend wants to join!
  • Find an event happening near where you live that sounds interesting but doesn’t require much planning (i.e., not sporting events). If you subscribe to the Axis Integrated Mental Health Facebook page, we often share local, free activities to do in Denver. You could even make this into an adventure by taking public transportation instead of driving yourself; then make sure everyone has a good time without having any idea where they’re going until they arrive!

Keep Communicating

Even if it seems like all the effort that goes into supporting a loved one with a mental illness is unappreciated, it’s important to keep checking in. If you ask how they are doing and they reply, “I’m okay,” that doesn’t mean everything is fine. They may feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health, or simply want to avoid talking about it at all (which can be understandable). But if someone has told you that they suffer from depression or anxiety and rely on medication for help—and then refuses to talk about those medications—it’s worth trying one more time. Your friend might just need some guidance and reassurance that what he or she is experiencing isn’t unusual or shameful—and that getting help is normal and healthy.

Mental illness can be isolating, but having friends can make a big difference in coping with depression and anxiety

You can make a big difference in your friend or family member’s life by being supportive.

  • Talk about the issue. Support your loved one through diagnosis by not being afraid to ask questions, share with them your own concerns, and don’t assume that they’ll tell you everything you need to know. It’s okay if they don’t want to talk about it right away; just be patient and wait for them to open up on their own time (which might take days or weeks).
  • Be a good listener. Listen attentively when they do start talking about what’s going on, and try not to interrupt with suggestions or advice unless asked for it—and even then, only give advice if asked directly!
  • Avoid being judgmental or condescending at all costs—you may think that people who get depressed are just “crazy,” but that kind of attitude will only hurt your relationship with them over time as well as discourage them from seeking help in future instances where they might need assistance more urgently than usual due to stressors outside of their control (such as during finals week). One way around this is by simply saying, “I don’t understand why X makes so much sense right now,” instead of using any other negative wordings such as “Why would anyone do something like X?” which implies judgment towards whoever made those choices without taking into account why they might have done so under certain circumstances (e., e.,g., having no other choice available due lack resources/money).
  • Praise them for doing positive things. I encourage my relative suffering from depression by telling them how courageous they are for getting a psychiatrist and asking for help. So many people can't do this, and that's why we started the #bravenotbroken video series to showcase our patients' courage in sharing their mental health stories.

Re-evaluate your loved one’s current mental health strategy

One of the best ways of supporting a loved one with a mental illness is to help them determine if their medications are working. Oftentimes, a person's family will notice if things are working before they do. If your loved one has been taking the same meds for years without any significant improvement, it may be time to reevaluate their current regimen. Recent advancements in mental health have led to innovative and effective treatment approaches to depression and anxiety. For instance, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), is a drug-free option that precisely targets regions of the brain that are associated with mood control with magnetic pulses. By activating brain cells in this manner, patients increase their ability to process difficult feelings, make decisions, and exercise more control over thoughts and behaviors. TMS was approved by the FDA in 2008 and first covered by insurance in 2013. Many of our patients report the reduction or elimination of depression medication usage after undergoing TMS.

Another option for recovering from treatment-resistant depression is Ketamine infusion therapy. People affected with mood disorders frequently feel significantly better after receiving ketamine infusions. This is not because it tricks you into thinking you feel better. Ketamine helps repair the damaged connections within the brain, by increasing BDNF and neuroplasticity the brain can actually heal from the damage caused by years of depression, anxiety, and more. 

Ketamine, however, is not a cure for chronic disorders. Whatever caused the problem in the first place may still exist. Therefore, we work with you to find and heal the root cause and address your long-term needs. Ketamine infusions can be an amazing bridge to healing that quickly decreases symptoms.

Offer Support

When someone is suffering from a mental illness, even doing basic things like calling a doctor or finding a therapist can seem overwhelming. Supporting a loved one with a mental illness can come in the form of making appointments with physicians, or finding the right treatment provider. To make the search easier, Axis Integrated Mental Health is an integrative holistic psychiatry practice offering appoints within 7 days that can be booked online. Another way to offer support is by accompany your loved one to appointments, and helping them make a thorough list of symptoms and ailments to discuss with the doctor. Oftentimes, depressed and anxious people are unaware of their own behavioral changes and may think that this is just the way that love is.


What is not recommended when helping a loved one with mental health problems?

When supporting a loved one with mental illness, it's crucial to tread carefully. Avoid the pitfalls of judgment and dismissal, recognizing that their emotions are valid and complex. Resist the urge to impose quick fixes or downplay the gravity of their struggles. Instead, cultivate an atmosphere of active listening and genuine understanding. Let them know you're there as a pillar of support, acknowledging that your role is not to have all the answers but to encourage them to seek professional help if necessary. Your empathy and patience can become powerful tools in fostering a compassionate and understanding environment for your loved one's mental well-being.

Remember that your friend or loved one is suffering from something from a medical condition that is not their fault. While you can’t always take away the pain or make it better, but you can help them cope with it. With a little effort, patience and compassion, you can be there for them when they need it most!

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