There’s lots of talk at the moment about mental health, especially about what to do when someone’s in crisis. And because 1 in 6 New Zealanders are diagnosed with a mental health disorder during their life, chances are someone you know is quietly battling with their own mental wellbeing.
There are many ways you can support someone who’s been diagnosed with a mental health condition once they’re receiving the right treatment.
Here’s our top tips for supporting a loved one with a mental health condition:
1. Learn about their illness
Understand more about their illness – what symptoms to look out for, what can trigger it and what the different treatment options are (including but not limited to medications). If you know a bit about the complexity of what causes mental illness it can help you understand, and explain to others, why they can’t just snap out of it.
Mental illness isn’t any different than a physical illness. If someone is diagnosed with heart problems, they wouldn’t hesitate in seeking treatment. Mental health conditions are the same and should be talked about and treated just like any physical illness.
2. Keep them connected with friends and their community
Staying connected with people is important for everyone’s mental wellbeing. If your loved one is finding it too overwhelming to meet up with other friends, organise a catch for just the two of you. If there’s a community class or activity they usually enjoy but can’t face going to, go with them (you might even find a new activity you enjoy for yourself!). Encourage them to stay active.
Don’t be afraid if you don’t know what to say. It’s better to admit you don’t know than avoid them for fear of saying the wrong thing. Usually, your friend just needs someone to listen to them and not pass judgement or offer advice. Make sure that what they tell you is kept in confidence, unless you’re worried for their safety.
4. Have realistic expectations
By understanding their condition, it can help you know what you can expect of them, and what they can manage to do for themselves. If you live with someone with a mental illness, expectations could be about getting up at the same time each morning, showering every day and helping with household chores. Expectations can change on a day to day basis depending on how they are coping.
5. Offer practical help
Your friend or family member might not be able to tell you what they need. Practical help such as providing a meal, walking their dog or dropping their kids off at school can be a big help.