What to Do When a Loved One is Struggling with Mental Health 

 May 29, 2021

By  counselingwithnatalie

Declining mental health scares many people, encouraging many to sweep it under the rug in hopes of moving past it. People might unintentionally do this because understanding mental health doesn’t come as naturally as reading emotions or having the appropriate reaction given the situation.

We might think that receiving a psychiatric diagnosis will disrupt our lives, but what if our loved ones are the ones diagnosed?

We might find ourselves saturated with feelings of guilt and confusion. Mental health is not as broadcasted and understood compared to physical health because of the subjectivity of how each diagnosis influences each client differently. Atmosphere, environment, upbringing, values, socio-economic class are just a few of the many factors that directly influence the pathology of certain diagnoses.

Most psychiatric diagnoses are known as “disorders,” that lead to people feeling isolated and abnormal because of their condition. To discredit their sense of abnormality, validating their feelings will motivate them to not identify with the “abnormal” label. While empathizing, try asking questions like “why do you think this upset you?” to gain insight into their reasonings. Knowing why something upset them will prevent you from accidentally upsetting them, as well as knowing how to react in similar future scenarios.

People struggling with mental disorders live day-to-day life with a much heavier cognitive load than the average individual. Acknowledging positive changes and improvements, no matter how small they may seem, will make them feel seen.

Many times, our self-image is threatened by stigmatized labels like “patient” & “abnormal,” which can cause dissociation – to become distant from ourselves to avoid feeling bad about who we are. Dissociation can cause robotic-like behavior, which is adopted to avoid the reception of environmental queues that strengthen our fears and insecurities – the stigma behind mental health. Therefore, creating an aware and accepting environment is key for people to stay true and not become distant from the relationship or friendship.

Unlike physical health, mental health cannot be “cured” as a common cold or broken bone. Some treatments solely suppress symptoms so that the person can lead a regular lifestyle (like schizophrenia.) Other treatments aim to change the root of the problem, in hopes of ultimately resolving it. CBT is a form of therapy that aims to cognitively cause a shift in outlook or trains the individual to think in a way that reduces the onset of certain symptoms (like intrusive thoughts in patients with OCD, or anxious/ negative thoughts for people struggling with anxiety and/or depression.)

The very first thing patients and those in proximity must avoid doing is assigning blame. Unlike physical complications, there’s no specific reason that led to the disorder. For example, someone relates accidentally falling down the stairs with breaking their leg, so they don’t personally feel as responsible, neither do those around the person. But with mental disorders, there’s no clea reason for its onset, so we tend to incorrectly assign the blame to ourselves or to onto others around us. Wrongfully blaming people will strain relationships that might have created an otherwise very beneficial support system. Although this is much easier said than done, understanding that no one is at fault can motivate them towards getting better rather than focusing on the why. “why me?” “why did this happen” “why did they do this to me?” avoid asking why and incorporate more “how.” “how can we solve this?” “how can I still be a present wife” “how can I make him/her feel validated?” Incorporating more “How” questions will be motivation to move past the diagnosis and being keen on finding tips and tricks to incorporate in their lifestyle that can lead them to living a normal and undisrupted life.

There’s a fine line however between wanting to be there for your loved at all the times, and unintentionally victimizing them. Many patients struggling with their mental health report not discussing it with others in fear of them pitying them- or for men, seeming less of a man. Therefore, use your knowledge about who they are as a person to treat them in a way where they still feel like one. There comes a point where joking about the matter lightens its weight, or simply not mentioning it and doing regular activities, so long as it doesn’t feel forced or fake. The perfect balance of emotional support and regular activities differs for every individual. Relying on your instinct might be the best solution to find the equilibrium, where your loved one feels supported without feeling that their diagnosis makes them who they are.

Every person struggling with their mental health is affected in different ways. The most important thing is to not take away from yourself or feel less of yourself because of the psychological disorder diagnosis of your loved ones. Assigning blame might provide temporary relief but focusing your attention and energy on improving your presence and availability for them will create a support network that will aid their rehabilitation and benefit lessen their psychological stress knowing they have a support system for whenever they may need.

by Maya Moustafa, Content Contributor

Feuerman, M., medically reviewed by Snyder, C. MD (April, 2021), Living With Someone With a Mental Illness. Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/coping-with-a-mentally-ill-spouse-2302988


Coping, Family, Mental Health, Stress

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