While life has plenty of sparkling moments, joy, and laughter, it’s not all puppies and rainbows. Life also includes moments of sadness, loss, anger, and grief. Some of our loved ones can also experience added difficulties coping with poor mental health, and we may feel stuck in regard to supporting them well. Of course, It’s not as simple as telling someone to “just be happy” or “get over it” or “you should be looking at the bright side” or “others have it worse than you — buck up.” (This is a facet of toxic positivity, which can do more harm than good). We also don’t want to ignore our loved ones and simply hope things get better from the sidelines.
So, what can YOU do to help?
Here are 5 ways to support a struggling loved one:
- Kindly and respectfully ask your loved one what’s going on or how they are feeling.
If you suspect your loved one is struggling, having a crisis, or feeling down, it’s important to remember to keep your tone gentle, respectful, and non-accusing when addressing what’s on their heart and mind. Ask your loved one questions, such as, “Would you like to tell me how you’re feeling?” or “It seems like you’re going through something. Do you want to talk about it?” Respect your loved one’s choice to share as little or as much as they need.
- Listen attentively.
Imagine yourself in the shoes of your loved one: wouldn’t you want someone’s undivided attention when you’re in need of support? Put your phone and other distractions aside. Make eye contact. Really listen to what your loved one is saying. Do your best not to interrupt or jump into “fix-it mode,” as many of us want to do when we see our loved one is in pain. Instead, approach the situation with the mindset of “how can I best support you right now?”
- Validate their emotions regarding their circumstances.
It’s critical to validate the emotions your loved one is feeling. Our feelings are organic and often feel beyond our control. Listen in earnest. Don’t try to control someone’s feelings by telling them what they feel or how they “should” feel. Your goal is to validate their experience (“Of course losing your pet makes you feel devastated!”) You don’t have to agree with how your loved one feels about their circumstances. The point is that they feel it! Try to be open and curious, ready to ask questions about why they are experiencing these emotions and how you can help. Remind them that you love them and want to help.
- Discuss self-care with your loved one.
Self-care is a multi-faceted thing that many of us put off to tend to our other priorities (work, families, etc.). In truth, mental health care is health care. You’re nourishing and tending to your brain, thoughts, and feelings. Our brains kind of run the show here! So that makes check-ins and self-care a top priority! Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. It can be as simple as taking a walk, listening to music or podcasts you love, reading a good book, making sure you’ve had enough water, or spending time with our furry friends. Of course, it might also mean making the call to set-up weekly therapy or getting medications you need to feel better. This old adage, while some may find it annoying, rings true: you cannot pour from an empty glass. Ask your loved one what they are doing to fill their proverbial glass? Remind them that self-care is not a selfish act — it’s vital.
- Remind them that seeking professional care is perfectly okay.
If your loved one is really struggling with their emotions and circumstances, experiencing crisis or trauma, or having thoughts of harming themselves or others, it’s paramount that they seek professional help from a licensed professional. There’s no shame in going to a professional to get the help one needs to heal, cope, and get back to joy. Therapy with a licensed professional provides one with space to talk about what’s on their mind and and get the necessary skills they need to feel better. Like fuel in a car, we all need a little help to move forward sometimes! Nobody needs to suffer alone or in silence. Encourage your loved one to seek professional help when they need it.
Our loved ones make us laugh, provide inspiration, give us love, and make our lives richer. Together, we weather the peaks and valleys that life has to offer. Life’s better with friends, family, and those quirky co-workers we adore. No matter what, it’s important that we watch out for one another, be kind, and offer a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on when times are hard.
If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or 9-1-1 if there’s an immediate emergency/crisis.
Here are some bonus resources from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness):
- Crisis Text Line Text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
- 800-950-NAMI (6264) NAMI HelpLine
- Girls & Boys Town National Hotline
- (800) 448-3000
- National Hopeline Network
- National Youth Crisis Hotline
(800) 442-HOPE (4673)
*reviewed by Kate Bellingar, MA, LPC, NCC and Sara Wisneski, LPC