Helping Your Friends and Family With their Mental Health
Clear Recovery Center in Southern California estimates that in a typical year, 1 in 5 adults in the United States is affected by a mental illness like anxiety, stress, or depression. This means it’s likely that someone in your group of friends or family is living with a mental health condition.
You’ll notice that while some individuals clearly show signs of a mental illness, others do not. This is why it’s important to educate and inform yourself on this topic.
Common Warning Signs
Mental health is often brushed under the rug, which is ironic because we wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to get over it and start walking. Mental health problems are no different – individuals suffering from one need help and support. You can help a friend or family member overcome their illness by understanding the causes, warning signs, and triggers.
Recent studies have found that families who educate themselves on the mental illness of a loved one, are better able to help them recover. In fact, the rates of relapsing were cut by half in the first year. Clearly, educating oneself can have a clear and measurable effect. Signs and symptoms to look for include:
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Continuously feeling down or sad
- Extreme mood swings
- Inability to concentrate
- Changes in appetite
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Skipping work or school
- Failure to answer calls or messages
- Signs of being suicidal, like saying “I don’t want to be here any more”
Ways You Can Help
Alongside becoming familiar with symptoms, we need to learn how to help. Trying to help a friend or family member by guessing what is wrong might only worsen the matter. Instead, encourage them to connect with a doctor or therapist who can offer professional advice.
Moreover, trying to rush through someone’s process can lead to the individual feeling even more frustrated. It’s best to keep your approach open-ended by asking questions that will let the other person lead (e.g, questions that can’t be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’). A great way to help them is by being patient, listening to them, and making them feel valued.
As well as trying to keep your style of conversation as open as possible, it is also advised to keep the tone of questions as free as possible. This will allow the other person to lead the conversation in whichever direction they wish to. Feeling like a source of worry or pity for others will only wear them out and they may wish to take the conversation in a direction you didn’t anticipate. Often, just having someone listen is a great relief for them.
Another useful way you can help is participating in activities with your friend or relative to help them unwind. When suffering from conditions such as depression, people can lose their will to do enjoyable things. By taking them out for a walk, to the cinema, or simply playing video games with them, you can take their mind off of their worries for a while.
In terms of seeking help, the first step is often the hardest for people suffering from a mental illness. Offering your help in making an appointment, or going with the person if they want, could act as a helpful stepping stone and could be very valuable for them. If you attend the appointment for them, we encourage you to take notes during the session as this could be helpful down the road.
With greater shared knowledge of these issues, we can work to break the stigma around them and work towards a society where mental health issues are openly discussed.