Everyone needs support sometimes. My social media feeds are full of ideas to support each other, people asking for support, people giving support. When the people around you have a mental health issue, supporting them can sometimes be harder.
The first thing everyone needs to know about offering anyone support, whether short term or long term, is that you can’t pour from an empty pitcher. You have to take care of yourself first. It’s ok to make sure you get the rest, food, time alone to recharge, and support for yourself.
Like with self-care, supporting others has to be individual. Not every support idea will work for every person, and what works for one may greatly bother another. We've collected a few ideas that may be worth trying, or talking with your loved one about to see what may be helpful for them.
Some examples of how to help loved ones include:
Gentle reminders to eat and drink at regular times. If you are fixing yourself food, make extras. Offer them some. Sometimes it takes too much thinking to decide what to eat or too much energy to make a sandwich and taking the guesswork out of meals helps them focus on what they need to do to heal.
Speaking of food! Put food in their freezer- casseroles, or even just frozen dinners. Something they can grab and heat - making this as easy as possible for them.
Help clean their house - load or unload the dishwasher, switch or start laundry, take the trash out.
Reminders to take medicines may help, as well, so help them set up a system - on paper or through their phone.
Offering to be an errand buddy is good support for someone too anxious or depressed to leave the house easily, or whose physical or mental health doesn’t allow them to drive.
Offering rides to appointments is also a good, practical way of showing support.
Attend treatment and support groups with them when appropriate.
Obtain your own therapeutic services to ensure your longevity with being able to support your loved one.
Have patience and really take the time to listen.
Be an advocate for your loved one (with their permission) - with teachers, with doctors, other professionals, even their family.
Be an ally when it comes to funding and marches. Listen to the charities and groups that we support, and find out why.
Learn the correct terms for our illnesses, and avoid the common slurs.
Talk to them about treatment - especially if they are not currently receiving help.
Beyond the practicalities, though, there are many ways to support people having a difficult time in their lives.
A night in with feel good movies (or horror films, whatever works for them!), blankets, hot chocolate and snacks on the couch.
A blanket fort and silent companionship.
A walk together.
Coffee to talk about something that isn’t illness or pain, or doctors or medications.
Find a hobby you can enjoy together. Or two hobbies that can be enjoyed in tandem.
When going out, have signals or codes that will allow your friend or loved one to tell you if they need out, either to leave a situation, or just take a breather.
Many of the suggestions from last month’s blog about self-care can be modified to support a loved one - it really is about what fits their needs. You may use only one of these suggestions repetitively, or all of them in variation, in your relationships. In times of increased stress, or if medications change, or hormonal changes, your friend or loved one may need a change in how you support them which is why communication is key. Be a safe person for your loved one to talk openly with, check in regularly to see if what you are offering as support is meeting their needs. It is important to remember that supporting a person with a mental illness can be long term - pace yourself and be patient as this will be a process, for you and your loved one.
Above all, remember that your mental health and well- being is important, too. As I said at the beginning, you can’t help others if you haven’t helped yourself, first. If you need support in taking care of yourself, please review last month's blog and seek treatment for yourself!
Maria Laquerre is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who specializes in addressing trauma with clients of all ages. Maria has practiced therapy in New Mexico since her return in 2008. Maria's current passion is supporting therapists in doing their best clinical work, which she pursues through offering supervision, consultation and trainings. Maria enjoys spending time with her family, watching Star Wars and Marvel movies, discussing the psychology of pop culture and loves a good book!