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How Can You Support a Loved One With a Mental Illness?

Watching a loved one struggle with a mental illness can be difficult and heart-wrenching. Many people don’t know what to do and how to best help that loved one during these trying times. Sometimes, good intentions go awry and what we think will help ultimately does more harm than good.

Every person is different, each family structure is unique, and every set of symptoms and treatments varies. You know your loved one and can offer unique insights that can help health care providers find the best treatment and services for the patient. Your support and involvement can also go a long way in helping family members realize they don’t have to struggle alone.

But there are still challenges and tough questions on how to help loved ones dealing with anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses. So, there are a few points that you might want to consider when you are trying to determine how to help yours.

Some warning signs of mental health problems

There are a number of signs that might indicate someone is struggling with a mental health problem of some kind. They include:

  • Withdrawal from things once enjoyed
  • Changes in social interactions and friendships
  • Problems with personal care and hygiene
  • Sudden issues with work or school performance
  • Dramatic changes in sleep and wake cycles
  • Severe changes in appetite and sudden weight changes
  • Lashing out and unexpected mood changes

These signs or experiences may not necessarily mean a person has a mental health problem. But ongoing signs and repeated instances are cause for concern.

Likewise, if there are any symptoms that are concerning or possibly harmful, then consider finding medical care sooner rather than later. Medical intervention of some kind might be needed to help address problems and manage symptoms.

But regardless of when and how people seek medical care, family members can play a significant role.

Tips for helping a loved one cope with mental illness

Family members can do many things to help loved ones lead fulfilling lives as they deal with mental health issues and concerns. Ten important things to keep in mind as you take this journey together are:

  1. Learn all you can about the illness. The more you know, the more you can support them and help them through these challenges.
  2. Seek out resources from the experts. The more sources you consult (provided they are reputable and accurate), the more options you will have to consider.
  3. Set and maintain realistic expectations. Both you and your loved one will need to be sure that expectations about the illness and treatment are accurate and realistic, so you don’t set yourselves up for failure or disappointment.
  4. Ask for help and support when needed. No single person can manage mental health issues alone, nor can any family, so be sure to ask for help as needed.
  5. Continue to follow your loved one’s treatment plan. When medical experts have laid out a care plan and have prescribed medications, it’s important to follow those recommendations.
  6. Let your family member maintain control. Allow loved ones to manage areas of their life, be involved, and have a say in their mental health care. Make decisions with them, not for them.
  7. Encourage them to talk and engage with others. Aside from working with their mental health professionals, loved ones with mental health issues need to engage with friends and other family members.
  8. Set appropriate limits and guidelines as needed. Some people need structure and guidelines to help them control and manage their symptoms, and family can help here, too.
  9. Establish equality and level ground. Be mindful of how you talk to and interact with loved ones to ensure you aren’t treating them any differently than you otherwise would.
  10.  Be supportive of their struggles. There will be good days and bad days. Be sure to praise the good and provide encouragement through the bad to keep them motivated.

Be sure to take care of yourself, too

The final thing family members need to remember when helping a loved one with a mental illness is to not forgo self-care.

According to Psychiatry.org, “Support groups for family members, such as those through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America, can be valuable sources of information and mutual support and understanding. NAMI offers both a training program for families (Family-to-Family) and ongoing peer-led support groups for family members.”

You can’t pour out of an empty cup. It’s essential to ensure that you are taken care of, and your needs are met while you work to support your loved one. Therapy, support, counseling, and care are available and can make a world of difference.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

Contact a Resource Specialist

About the Author: Pamela Zuber has been a writer and editor at Sunshine Behavioral Health since 2016. Her writing has appeared on several websites as well as in numerous reference books and databases. After earning a degree in English and communication from the University of Michigan and a history degree from Oakland University, she continues to learn and apply her newfound knowledge to her writing. She hopes her work can inform readers, help them find assistance, and eliminate stigmas about addiction and mental health conditions.


  • mentalhealth.gov – Supporting a Friend or Family Member with Mental Health Problems
  • apa.org – How to Cope When a Loved One Has a Serious Mental Illness
  • namica.org – Helping Support Someone with a Mental Health Condition: Guide for Families and Friends
  • psychcentral.com – Ways to Support a Loved One with Serious Mental Illness
  • extension.usu.edu– Supporting a Loved One with Mental Health Illnesses
  • psychiatry.org – Helping a Loved One Cope with Mental Illness
  • sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Sunshine Behavioral Health Drug and Alcohol Rehabs

May Is Mental Health Month 2022

“Back to Basics”

May is Mental Health Month, a time to spread public awareness and education about mental health disorders and reflect on the impact of mental illness on individuals and their families.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Month is “Back to Basics.” The goal this May is to provide foundational knowledge about mental health and mental health conditions and spread information about what people can do if their mental health is a cause for concern.

It is also a time to recognize and commit to changing the racial and economic inequities in our health care system, particularly with respect to mental health.

www.rtor.org and Laurel House are committed to the advancement of racial equity and social justice, and to making mental health services accessible to all.

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The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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