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7 Steps to Helping a Family Member Cope with a Mental Health Issue

Today, estimated that roughly 20% of U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.

The chances are that you know multiple people who are currently battling mental health issues—perhaps even people within your own family. It might even be that a family member is struggling with a mental health problem that has yet to be diagnosed.

Although many strides have been made to destigmatize mental health, the reality is that stigmas still prevent many from getting help shares By identifying a potential mental health issue and providing the right support, you can get your family members the help they need.

Whether a loved one is in the middle of a long battle with a mental health disorder or whether you’re spotting the first signs of a potential mental illness, here are seven steps you can take to navigate the issue together.

1. Keep an eye out for warning signs

In many cases, mental health disorders can exist for years before they are detected or diagnosed.

It may be that one of your loved ones has yet to receive a diagnosis for a mental health disorder.

By keeping a keen eye out for sure warning signs as they arise, you may be able to identify a potential issue and take the first step in getting them the help and support that they will need going forward.

Although mental health disorders may manifest in a variety of ways, some of the most common warning signs include the following:

  • Extreme mood changes
  • Excessive worrying
  • Excessive fear
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Inability to deal with everyday stress
  • Anger or violence
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Low appetite

Person illustrating mental health issues

2. Start the conversation

One of the worst ways to handle another person’s mental health issue is to leave them in the dark while you attempt to manage the situation behind the scenes.

Once you have identified a few warning signs that point to a potential mental illness, it’s important to have a conversation with your loved one.

While it may be a difficult conversation to have, it will go a long way towards maintaining a sense of mutual trust and transparency between you.

In most cases, this conversation takes place even before there has been any kind of diagnosis of the issue—in which case, you’re not expected to have the answers to every question.

What’s most important is that the subject is raised and that you are able to discuss it kindly and respectfully.

Use language that makes your family member feel reassured that you care about them and their wellbeing.

By the end of the conversation, your family member should feel loved, encouraged, and supported, but also acknowledge that they need to take the next step.

3. Get an official diagnosis

Next, your loved one will need to book an appointment with their preferred healthcare provider.

If appropriate, ask your loved one if you can attend, but make sure you don’t rob them of their independence in the process.

During the appointment, you will want to discuss the various symptoms that have been observed and the timeline on which they have occurred.

Following this and perhaps some testing, the doctor will likely give your loved one a diagnosis.

If a mental health disorder is confirmed, the doctor might suggest a plan of action.

Take some time to discuss this with your loved one.

4. Educate yourself on mental health disorders

Once your family member has received an official diagnosis for a mental health condition, it’s time for you to educate yourself on the specific disorder and learn about how you can support your loved one throughout the journey they are about to go on.

The internet contains plenty of great resources, but it also has its fair share of false information.

Lean on the expertise of qualified, vetted mental health professionals—such as those at Mental Health America and the National Institute of Mental Health—for information and resources that can assist you and your loved one.

5. Discuss treatment options

While you are familiarizing yourself with your family member’s mental health condition and learning of ways to provide better support, be sure to discuss treatment options with your loved one—along with any other trusted family members or very close friends.

There may be certain barriers that threaten to get in the way of treatment—whether it’s money, transportation, or schedule conflicts.

Do your best to navigate these issues together, prioritizing your loved one’s health and wellbeing.

6. Continue to follow up with your loved one

Once your loved one has agreed to accept treatment for their condition, you must continue to provide the same unwavering support throughout their journey.

The reality is that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. (NIMH), and checking in regularly could be the difference between a life lost and a life saved.

The good news is that many mental health issues can eventually be defeated, and your consistent love and support will play a critical role in your family member’s recovery.

However, depending on the severity of the condition or illness, you may need to prepare for a lifelong struggle with mental health.

By continuing to provide support, you may be able to assist them in keeping their condition at bay or help them identify different ways to manage their condition more efficiently going forward.

7. Have your own support system

Watching a loved one go to war with mental health disorder can be heartbreaking.

As a key cog in that person’s support system, you are heavily invested in their journey—constantly following the ebbs and flows of their battle and helping them bear the burden of the illness.

These things can leave you physically and emotionally exhausted.

While you’re focusing all of your efforts on caring for that person, you can easily neglect your own needs.

Just as your loved one needs a support system to navigate a mental health disorder, you also need to make sure that you have your own support system to lean on when things get difficult.

Make sure you have people around you who are invested in your wellbeing—whether it’s other family members, close friends, mentors, or therapists.

And remember, you’re not alone. At least 8.4 million U.S. adults provide care to someone with a mental or emotional health issue. 

There is help and support readily available to you, too.

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