Research confirms that support from employers, family, and friends is critical to someone experiencing mental health issues. This support provides a network of practical and emotional help. Networks can comprise of parents, children, siblings, spouses or partners, extended families, close friends and others who care about us like neighbours, coworkers, coaches and teachers. Some people have larger networks than others, but most of us have at least a few people who are there for us when we need them.
If you are a family member, friend or co-worker who cares about someone who is living with a mental health issue(s), you can help in many ways. Your commitment to them can help them to feel supported in their recovery efforts, feel safe and begin to enjoy life.
Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder can make people feel isolated and alone and they withdraw from family and friends. They may feel hopeless at times, finding it difficult to do things they once enjoyed. You can provide encouragement.
There are a number of major ways that family and friends can help in someone’s journey towards recovery.
Knowing when something is wrong—or right:
Getting help early is an important part of treating mental illness, and because they spend time with us, co-workers, family, and friends are often the first ones to notice that something is wrong. Family members may also be the first to see signs of improvement.
- Learn more about the signs and symptoms of different mental health issues. Also learn more about how treatments work so that you know what side effects you may see, when to look for improvements and which ones to look for first. A recent review found that when the family is educated about the illness, the rates of relapse in their loved ones were reduced by half in the first year.
- Consider your strengths and the time you have to give. You could call every other evening to check in or meet with him or her once a week. You could offer to do grocery shopping or take children to activities. You might help by asking if you could help out with some of their work load.
- Let your friend or family member know they can count on your help. Tell him or her, “You don’t have to go through this alone. I’m here if you need me.”
Families and friends can be important advocates to help loved ones get through those hard, early stages of taking the first steps to seek help.
- Offering to make those first appointments with a family doctor to find out what’s wrong and/or accompanying the person who’s unwell to the doctor can often be welcome to someone who may not have the energy or concentration to do it all by themselves.
Offer Emotional Support:
You can play an important role in helping someone who’s not feeling well feel less alone and ashamed. They are not to blame for their mental health, but they may feel that they are, or may be getting that message from others. You can help encourage hope.
- Learn all you can about their disorder and its treatment so that you can more effectively cope, help, and keep your expectations realistic.
- Accept the fact that the person has a legitimate illness.
- Be understanding. Let them know that you care. Engage them in conversation and listen carefully.
- Use humour when appropriate.
- Try not to become angry at your friend or family member. Don’t get stuck in talking about the past – stay in the present.
Help your friend or family member stay active:
- Invite him/her for walks, to the movies and other activities.
- Encourage participation in activities he once enjoyed, such as hobbies, sports, or cultural activities.
- Do not push her to undertake too much too soon. Too many demands can increase feelings of failure.
Offer practical support:
- Cook dinner once a week.
- Run errands.
- Arrange a regular time to walk or go to the gym together.
- Suggest your loved one keep a symptom journal to track how they feel each day before, during and after treatment as well noting things that trigger more symptoms.
Help with medical needs:
- Encourage him to maintain professional medical help.
- Help her identify emotional and physical symptoms.
- If you’re noticing that your loved one is having trouble taking their medication, you should encourage them to mention it to their doctor or pharmacist. They can suggest ways to make pill taking easier.
- If there are other problems with taking medicine like side effects or other worries, encourage your loved one to write down their concerns and questions and talk to their doctor.
Help them recognize recovery:
- Point out small signs of progress, by saying things like: “You laughed tonight more than you have in a long time,” or “I see you’re working in your garden again.”
Protect against suicide risk:
- To determine if someone is having thoughts of suicide try asking: “Are you thinking about giving up?” “Do you need help to keep yourself safe?”
- If you feel there is a risk, seek professional help immediately.
Take care of the caregiver:
- Spend time with other people you care about.
- Take time off, if you need to.