By Kayla Garnett
The hardest part of watching a loved one in pain is the guilt. It's so common to think “why didn’t I get hurt,” or “I wish it was me instead of them.” It's difficult for us to watch others suffer because it makes us feel powerless. When it comes to mental health, for example, it may seem as if there is nothing that can be done to alleviate a loved one's pain. But people who love and understand those struggling with their mental health may actually make the greatest difference in how they deal with their struggles and even their recovery. The key to helping those in pain is to use your love for them to find empathy and understanding. Although its important “to learn that they didn’t cause [their loved one’s disorder] and they can’t cure it,” you must remember your purpose for helping your loved one– because you care about them and their wellbeing. (psychcentral.com)
The first big way you can support a loved one facing mental health struggles is by educating yourself on what they are dealing with. Understanding even a sliver of what they are going through may go a long way in showing them respect and dignity and being able to connect with them. It's easy for those who struggle with their mental health to feel isolated due to the persistent stigma around mental health issues, as well as the fact that they may very well be alone in their struggles: maybe they are the only one in the family, the only person they know that has their condition. Educating yourself may help bridge the gap by making your loved one feel less alone.
Try being optimistic, even when things seem dire. Remaining calm, spreading happiness, and having an overall “glass-half-full” spirit may seem stupid and pointless, but it's better than being pessimistic. Mental illness is complex, and usually it isn't something that is just cured. It's something that will likely remain constant in your loved ones life. For this reason, it's better to see the bright side of things, so to speak, wherever and whenever you can. That may mean kind words and smiles, encouragement on off days, doing nice things for your loved one, or even just remaining in good spirits whenever you can. Sometimes, just showing happiness and optimism will rub off and give your loved one hope about recovery and a brighter future. So stretch those cheek muscles and start smiling!
Finally, try to become a good listener. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just show that you care, and listening is where caring begins. Listen actively and try your best to step into their shoes. Don’t give them too much advice or try to solve anything, there are professionals for that. Just show that you are a shoulder to cry on, and that you will always be there for them to voice their problems to. That may make them feel more supported than anything else.
Its important to look out for our loved ones and help them however we can, no matter what they are dealing with. Keep in mind that although you should be showing support, you should also direct a loved one struggling with mental illness to a profession. Remember: the key to being a strong support is love and empathy!