Navigating Your Loved One’s Mental Illness

March 8, 2019

When a family member or friend suffers from a mental health related condition like depression or anxiety, it’s easy to feel scared and helpless, unsure of how you fit into your loved one’s care. You may not understand why they’re experiencing these feelings, and they may not be able to vocalize their needs. But you can play a key role for your loved one, offering support and helping them find the resources they need to cope with their condition. 1

Listen without judgment. Make sure your loved one knows they can talk to you about their feelings. Listen with an understanding ear, and refrain from offering opinions or judgment. Check in with them often, and offer consistent reassurance.

Learn about their condition. Understand the common symptoms of your loved one’s condition so you can anticipate accordingly. For example, symptoms of anxiety may include irritability, excessive worrying, restlessness, insomnia, fatigue and panic attacks. Symptoms of depression may include low mood (feeling sad or empty), decreased interest in things once enjoyed, appetite changes, fatigue, sleep disturbances and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Depression and anxiety often are experienced together.

Encourage treatment. If your loved one isn’t seeing a doctor or mental health provider, suggest they seek professional help. Show you’re willing to support treatment by offering to set up appoint­ments, take them to appointments or help prepare a list of questions to discuss with their mental health provider.

Recognize warning signs. Familiarize yourself with the typical warning signs of suicide, including long-lasting sadness, hopelessness, sudden calmness, drastic changes in appearance, significant withdrawal, self-harmful behavior and threats of suicide.

Be patient. Symptoms of mental health conditions can improve greatly with treatment. But it often takes time. Be patient with your loved one on their journey, always remembering that they are facing a serious health condition and didn’t choose to be in that position.

If you are experiencing symptoms of a behavioral health or mental illness related condition, you are not alone. Resources and support are available at a Hackensack Meridian Health location near you.