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How to Support a Loved One Struggling with their Mental Health

Seeing someone you love struggling with their mental health can lead to feelings of intense helplessness. You might wish you could do something to take their pain away, and perhaps would even be willing to take it on yourself instead if that was an option. We know that support is crucial for mental health recovery, so while you probably won’t be able to offer a quick fix for their pain, providing good support can go a long way. Below are five ways you can support your loved one with their mental health:

1. Listen.

It might seem obvious, but can’t be understated. Perhaps the most impactful thing you can do for your loved one when they are struggling with their mental health is to offer a genuine listening ear. Try to resist the urge to think of what you are going to say and instead, focus 100% of your attention and energy on listening and really trying to understand what they are experiencing.

2. Resist the urge to immediately relate.

Sometimes it can be helpful to talk about a similar experience you had or a time you felt the same way in an effort to communicate that your loved one isn’t alone. However, immediately telling a story about yourself when they open up to you shifts the focus from them to you, and may make them feel like they now need to console you rather than the opposite. This can also feel invalidating if what you went through isn’t as similar to their experience as you think it is. Keep the focus on them as much as possible.

3. Reflect back what you are hearing rather than trying to problem solve.

You might say, “I can see how overwhelming this is” versus “Have you tried…?” Most people benefit most from a good listener rather than specific advice. If you feel a strong need to offer a solution or piece of advice, before doing so you might ask “would it be okay if I offered a suggestion?” and then honor their response.

4. Be compassionate.

You can express compassion by saying things like “I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this”, “I’m here for you”, “I want to support you through this”, or “You don’t have to deal with this alone.” Resist the urge to downplay, minimize, or apply logic to their mental health struggle.

5. Let go of the need to rescue.

You don’t need to have the perfect response or remark to instantly take your loved one’s pain away. You also don’t need to know exactly what to say. If you don’t know what to say, the most validating thing you can say is, “I’m at a loss for words. I don’t even know what to say but I’m going to be here for you through this.”

When your loved one is struggling, the most important thing you can do for them is to make sure they know that you love them and are there to support them. Mental health struggles feel much less overwhelming when you know you don’t have to face them alone. Your loved one is lucky to have you.

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