Often when a person experiences mental illness, it affects those around them also. If you haven’t experienced mental illness yourself, it can be extremely complicated to understand how to help someone else who is suffering. Frequently our patients describe their frustrations surrounding their illness being ‘invisible’ and therefore harder to explain and understand, compared to say a broken leg or cancer.
Recent statistics show that 1 in 3 of us will experience a form of mental illness in our lifetime (Mind, 2018) and there has been a considerable shift in attitudes and conversations forming around topics perhaps less discussed a decade ago. The team at BREVIN believe that support from family and friends is an integral part of a patient’s successful treatment, here are a few fundamental ways to ensure you are supporting both your loved one and yourself during this challenging time.
Often when listening to a friend or loved one voicing a problem, our first instinct is to solve it. Mental illness, however, is often complex and patients may be unresponsive to what you may see as ‘rational’ help as their minds are not behaving in a ‘normal’ manner. It is often most comforting for the person who is explaining about their illness to feel that they are being listened to without judgement or questioning. It can be easier to share feelings when the person listening also has experienced a mental illness, but if this is not the case it helps to be patient, open and refrain from attempting too many suggested ‘fixes’ unless the person sharing requests help.
A key symptom of many mental illnesses is a feeling of exhaustion, especially those affected by depression and anxiety. They may struggle to keep in contact which can understandably be concerning to their close friends and family. By checking in frequently - perhaps by text or phone, it can reinforce the feeling of support you are willing to offer and the fact that they are not alone, no matter how unsociable they are feeling. By routinely checking in you will also be able to monitor their progress and recognise the signs should there be an extreme episode that may require medical attention.
Mental illness is isolating and having access to a safe space can provide much-needed comfort and reassurance. This space could be a family home, a friend’s house or even a dedicated accommodation provided by a service such as BREVIN. It is crucial that the individual feels they can retreat to this space when needed and it can also be beneficial to their loved ones as they know that they will be supported there.
Although there are many ways to support mental health and prevent relapse regarding exercise and creating healthier well-being, often there is a need for professional medical support, therapy and medication. Depending on the mindset of the person suffering, it can be an awkward conversation to have and ensuring that this is communicated in the most sensitive way possible is paramount to the outcome. Gently suggesting that the person visit their GP or a private mental health service can be the first step to long-term recovery.
Coping with the stress of worrying about a loved one’s mental health can be a stressful experience. It is crucial for you to practise a level of self-care to ensure your mental and physical health are not affected. Therapy can be helpful to process internal worries and feelings, as well as speaking to the people entrusted with the treatment plan of your loved one. Cutting down on caffeine, alcohol and maintaining a regular exercise routine has been suggested to improve general mood and mental health, as well as practising mindfulness or gentle yoga.