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7 ways to support a loved one’s mental health

7 ways to support a loved one’s mental health

You’ve likely been there – or could be in the future – where a friend or family member shares with you what’s troubling them, but you’re not sure what to say.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness. When someone you know is struggling with their mental mindset, it’s best to create space for them to talk openly and honestly about how they’re feeling.

Dr. Gene Carroccia, clinical psychologist and vice president of ambulatory behavioral health services for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care, offers seven ways to better support a loved one with a mental health concern:

1. Become more comfortable talking about mental health

“The topic of mental health is often taboo, so it can be easier to avoid or minimize it,” Dr. Carroccia says. “While it takes courage to start a conversation with a loved one about their mental health, if it’s done in a caring and non-threatening manner, it may open new doors for them. We are in a national mental health crisis together now, and we are challenged to stretch our comfort zones.”

2. Learn more about mental health challenges

Dr. Carroccia recommends researching your loved one’s mental health symptoms and issues. Learning more about the topic can also increase comfort level. You can visit helpful online resources like the National Alliance on Mental Health’s website to become more knowledgeable. The more comfortable you are with the subject matter, the better you can be there for a struggling loved one.

3. Listen to convey empathy and concern

“Sometimes your loved one just wants you to listen while they vent about what is troubling them,” Dr. Carroccia says. “While they may need professional assistance, not everyone needs this during difficult times. Being heard is an important human need, so work on really listening when they open up to you. Ensure it’s during a time free of distractions and avoid taking over the conversation with your personal experiences or beliefs.”

4. Use “I” statements and not “you” statements

“Saying ‘I’m worried about you’ or ‘I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately’ can provide a sense of support and safety,” Dr. Carroccia explains. “Expressing ‘you’ statements such as ‘You need to let that go’ may sound harsh and unsupportive.”

5. Don’t assume

“When a loved one shares their mental health concerns with you, try not to judge,” Dr. Carroccia says. “We shouldn’t assume we know how others feel. To combat stigma, it’s helpful to avoid blame and be sensitive, compassionate and patient.”

6. Encourage them to speak with a professional

“Don’t put all the burden on yourself to help others feel better in their time of need,” explains Dr. Carroccia. “Trust your gut if you have concerns and encourage them to speak with a mental health professional. Help them obtain a first appointment, if necessary.”

If you feel stuck and work for a company that has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), you can reach out for their support. EAPs are typically free, confidential, and can offer guidance and referrals.

7. Prioritize time for yourself

“It can be easy to neglect your well-being when supporting someone else with their significant struggles,” says Dr. Carroccia. “Set healthy boundaries for yourself and carve out time for self-care.”

If you’re looking for a behavioral health provider, click here if you live in Wisconsin or here if you live in Illinois.

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