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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

May 16, 2022, Allan, Carla C., PhD ,
7 ways you can support a loved one dealing with mental illness
7 ways you can support a loved one dealing with mental illness

Looking out for the mental well-being of our loved ones is just as important as caring for their physical health. When you are dealing with a mental illness, support from a loved one can make all the difference.  

Dr. Carla Allan, Phoenix Children’s division chief of psychology, suggests ways we can support a loved one dealing with mental illness.

1. Be compassionate

Connect with the emotion your loved one is experiencing. You do not have to have direct experience with the situation to provide support. The fact that you know what shame, loneliness, anger, or sadness feels like goes a long way.

2. Listen with your whole body

Show you care by listening with your whole body. Use your eyes, ears and a quiet, calm body. Find a comfortable place to talk, free of distraction. Plan to check in often.

3. Separate the illness from the person

A person is not defined by mental illness. Separate the illness from the person; remember that sometimes the anxiety or depression is talking and not your loved one.

If the conversation gets heated, end it gently by reminding them that you care and ask permission to circle back another time.

4. Have brief but frequent conversations

Brief, frequent conversations can be more productive than one, long one. What we do every day says so much more than our words. Check in often to show you care.

5. Consult their care team if necessary

If you are worried that a loved one may be suicidal, please ask them directly. We know that asking does not lead people to think about suicide, but it allows you to work with them to help them stay safe, if needed.

That may mean connecting with their therapist, psychiatrist, primary care physician or any other members of their existing care team. If you’re worried about how they’re thinking and feeling, call 602-248-TEEN or 1-800-273-TALK. If you’re worried that they are about to harm themselves, call 9-1-1 or go with them to the nearest emergency room. 

6. Be kind to yourself as well!

Be kind to yourself! Caregivers need to take care of themselves, too. Prioritize time with friends and supportive loved ones.

Go for walks outside and exercise when you can. Do your best to maintain healthy sleep and eating habits. Self-blame and shame are never productive, so if you find yourself stuck, changing your activity is the fastest way to change how you’re thinking and feeling.

7. Maintain an open-door policy and take steps to make your home safer

When someone you love is in emotional crisis, it’s important to keep an eye on them. Literally. Tell them that your door will be open and ask them to do the same. Take these steps to make your home safer.

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