How to Support Loved Ones in Mental Illness

How to Support Loved Ones in Mental Illness

Publish Date March 17, 2023 5 Minute Read
Author Kroger Health Team

How to Help with Mental Health: Tips for Providing Emotional Support

The status of our mental health controls more than just our emotional, psychological and social well-being; it also affects how we relate to others, handle stress and make choices in our day-to-day life. Just like our daily emotions change based on a number of factors, so can a person’s mental health. Every individual is different, and every situation varies, but having a support system makes a positive impact on a person’s wellness journey, and there are lots of ways you can provide emotional support to your friends and family when they need you most. On this page, we’ll help you understand how common mental illnesses are, how to recognize symptoms and how to help your loved ones when they’re going through a tough time.

What are Mental Illnesses?

Mental illnesses are conditions that affect a person’s feelings, mood, thinking and behavior, and they might be more common than you think. In fact, it’s likely that you’ve already encountered a friend or family member who has struggled with their mental health. According to recent reports published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, every year:

  • 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness
  • 1 in 20 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness resulting in serious functional impairment
  • 1 in 6 children (aged 6-17) in the U.S. experience a mental health disorder

There’s no single cause for mental illness, but by being able to recognize the symptoms or early warning signs in your loved ones, you may be able to offer assistance and emotional support at an earlier stage.

Recognizing Symptoms & Signs of Mental Illness

Knowing how to tell the difference between normal behaviors and potential signs of concern can be an important tool when it comes to helping those close to you. Even though every situation is different, and no two individuals are the same, many who are struggling with mental health challenges will display a number of common signs and symptoms.

Some early warning signs of mental health struggles may include one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Feeling restless or on-edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confused thinking
  • Irritability or extreme mood changes
  • Persistent sadness or feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Changes in appetite or weight

If you think that someone you love has been struggling with their mental health, one of the best ways you can begin to offer support is by talking to them. By starting a conversation about their wellness, you’re encouraging deeper communication and trust, which will allow you to provide better support.

How to Talk About Mental Health with Your Loves Ones

The simple act of reaching out is a great way to help your nearest and dearest begin their healing journey, and you don’t have to be an expert or have all the answers to start the conversation. Even though your approach will differ depending on your relationship with the individual, you can follow these tips to help provide proper emotional support and drive a positive dialogue about mental health:

  • Practice active listening: An active listener gives their complete attention to the person who is talking, asks open-ended questions, such as “How have you been?” or “Is there anything you want to talk about?”, and works to truly understand what is being said.
  • Maintain empathy: To be supportive of someone, it’s always important to exhibit empathy. Try to put yourself in that person’s situation and view the world from their point of view.
  • Validate their feelings: Validating someone’s feelings can let them know that you hear them, understand what they’re saying and truly care about how and why they’re feeling a certain way.
  • Use “I” statements: Stay away from “you should” statements, which can contribute to feelings of fear and worry. Instead, try speaking more gently by starting statements with “I,” such as “I feel like” or “I’d like it if...”
  • Ask how you can help: Ask what you can do to help. If the person is dismissive, gently offer a few suggestions for things you’d be willing to do. In this situation, even simple things work, such as sitting with them, watching a movie together or cooking them a meal.

Even though mental health isn’t always clear, when you’re honest, open and straightforward, talking about it can be.

Remember to Care for Yourself

When you’re busy helping someone else through a crisis, it can be easy to forget about yourself. Prioritizing your own self-care helps you feel your best and better equipped to offer the necessary support for your loved ones. If you’ve been feeling an increased strain on your mental health, step away, center yourself and focus on the things you need to do to improve your own mental wellness.

Even though you can provide a certain level of emotional support, care and connection to your friends or family, a mental health care professional can assess and diagnose mental health conditions and are trained to provide additional strategies for coping with thoughts, feelings and behaviors. For more mental wellness resources for both yourself and your loved ones, visit our Mental Wellness page, the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the National Institute of Mental Health.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.