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  • R.O.S.E.S. C3 Editorial Staff

Allyship: How to Support a Loved One with a Mental Illness

It all starts with one question. A simple “how have you been” may open up a floodgate of emotion, or, oftentimes, it may barely begin to chip away at the surface. Nevertheless, recognizing warning signs and knowing when to speak up if a family member or friend may be experiencing a mental illness is just the first step in a healthy recovery process.

Drastic changes in behavior and/or habits, such as a shift in interests, lower attention span, altered sleep schedule, and substance abuse may be warning signs that a friend or family member is experiencing a mental illness.

Noticing the problem is key, but what comes next? It may be uncomfortable to bring up the topic with your loved one, and they often may not want to discuss the issue. However, preparing a conversation starter may help you feel less nervous about acknowledging the issue at hand. For example, “Seems like something’s up. Do you wanna talk about what’s going on?” or “You’ve been acting differently lately. What’s up?”

It’s probably a good idea to steer clear of yes-or-no phrases such as “are you okay?” Otherwise, a simple “yes” will end the conversation and accomplish very little. Keep your questions open-ended, and while your family member or friend may view your concerns as unsolicited, know that you are doing the right thing by trying to help.

Let’s say the conversation gets off the ground. Now what?

The most important thing to remember is that providing your love and support is the best thing you can do--if you don’t have the perfect words, that’s okay. You’re not the psychiatrist or therapist that they need; your family member or friend just needs you to be there for them. If that means helping them contact a professional, or just checking in on them regularly, follow your instincts while respecting your counterpart’s boundaries.

If your friend or family member brought up their mental health struggles to you first, the same guidelines apply. Check in on your loved one regularly and respect that some days they may not feel like talking or hanging out. Everyone has a different recovery process, and as a friend or part of the family, it is your job to provide support in whichever ways they may need it.

You should ask questions if you’re concerned about their mental health and if you want to make sure they are getting the help they need, but don’t step over the line of supportive vs. prying. For example, “Are you getting the help you think you need?” is much more respectful and inviting than “What medication are you on?”

Many people with mental illnesses view their situation as something to be ashamed of, which it is not. However, respecting that your family member or friend may not want their personal information to be told to others is important. Chances are, you are one of very few people in their life that know about their illness, so value their trust.

Ultimately, just being there for your loved one as they go through this journey is the best you can do. You may not be a licensed therapist, but you know your friend or family member well enough to be a stronghold support as they step on their path to recovery.

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