Seeing someone who is close to you struggle with a mental health issue can be heartbreaking, not only because you slowly begin to notice that they no longer enjoy life, but also because you don’t exactly know what you can do to help them. It’s important to remember that there is no universal way to talk to someone who is struggling with mental health – whether that is anxiety depression, PTSD or even addiction. Take the time to understand what your loved one is going through and make small changes in your life that will help them feel loved and supported.

Learn more about the issue they are dealing with

Not all mental health conditions are the same and therefore they do not affect us in the same way. As soon as you learn what particular problem your loved one is facing, you should try to learn as much about it to know what to expect. For example, if a family member is dealing with depression, looking more into depression causes and symptoms will give you a better idea on how to recognize depressive episodes, even if at the surface there might not be something wrong.

Acknowledge the problem

One of the harshest realities of mental illness is that it can really take a toll on family life. Both mental illness and addiction can affect your relationships, making it harder to communicate. Although this might seem like a good solution, don’t try to sweep things under the rug and pretend that nothing is wrong. It’s not going to be easy and at times you will feel overwhelmed yourself, but the only way to heal is to acknowledge that there is a problem.

Don’t try to be the one to heal them

As a close family member, it’s normal to be concerned about what your sibling, spouse, child or parent is going through. However, you shouldn’t take it upon yourself to heal them. Addiction and mental illnesses are often underestimated and mistakenly taken as issues that you can just get over with or be talked out of, but they’re not. They are serious health concerns that should only be treated by a professional, using therapy, medical treatment or both. Your emotional support is greatly valued and can influence the effectiveness of the treatment, but you are not the therapist.

Learn to listen

The fact that your loved one confided in you about their mental illness and trusted you to open up mean a great deal. In many cases, people hide their symptoms from their families, for fear that they might feel ashamed, worried, angry and judged them. So, if they had the courage to open up, do them a favor and truly listen to them. Don’t point out that their anxiety isn’t grounded in reality, that they have no reason to be depressed or that you know what it’s like to feel that way. Just be there for them, let them talk to you about their concerns and reassure them that no matter what they are going through, you support them.

How to support a family member that is dealing with mental health issues