One of my jobs is in a hospital emergency room where I have the role of assessing and supporting a patient who may be deemed in crisis. This position is unique because more often than not, the role of the patient's family member(s) or loved ones is significantly considered for assessment and discharge planning. I find myself answering questions and providing support for the loved ones as well as the patient. Why? Despite the advancements in the mental health field, there is still limited education and resources available to the average person. Most people still consider mental health issues to be only for "crazy" people. Recently, on social media and in the news, I have noticed a change. I give credit to those who share their personal stories and experience with therapy/treatment for breaking the misconceptions about mental illness.
Yet, the people I interact with regularly (on the clock and off) have limited understanding of how to help someone they love who may be experiencing a mental health issue or going through a difficult time. As the loved one, you may have experienced the following:
- Believe you did something wrong or you can fix the other person
- Are more involved in their care than they are
- Feel helpless or overwhelmed
- Take responsibility for your loved one's recovery
- Internalize their progress (or lack of progress) as your fault
- Distance yourself from them
If you have felt any of these, that is okay. I am here to tell you this is totally normal. There is no absolute right way to be supportive of someone who is going through something. However, I do have some tips to empower you to take care of yourself as you love your loved one.
- Allow them to go through the process
- Have appropriate boundaries
- Seek help for yourself if you begin to feel overwhelmed
- Show empathy
- Get educated on mental health issues
One of the first things we are inclined to do is to fix the situation. I don't know about you but I used to be this way. I would give money, time, and resources to finding a way to help those I cared about. But when I took a step back and assessed, more often than not, I was doing all the work. I am not talking about the instances where your family member has insight and wants to make some changes. I am talking about the stage when they may be in denial or feel hopeless. Watching someone endure this stage is not pretty. I will say one thing...
They have to go through the process.
There is no other way than to go through. Unless they are incapable of making sound decisions, then I advise the loved one to assess how they can be supportive without walking through the process for their loved one.
Be empathetic, not an enabler.
Which means the loved one must check their boundaries. You can call the hospital 10 times a day, you can get their prescriptions filled, you can make their meals, and you can help care for the children. But you can not make them better. They have to take steps to get better and seek healing. They have to desire to participate in treatment and believe they can get better.
Engage in your own healing.
Supporting someone who is going through a difficult time or who has a mental illness can be taxing. I encourage you to check in with yourself and seek your own healing. Develop a self-care routine, take time to use your supports, talk to a therapist, get in a support group for caregivers, educate yourself about mental illness. You do not have to go through this alone. Remember, you are deserving of the love and support you so freely give.