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How to Support a Loved One with a Mental Illness

It is difficult when someone you care about is struggling. Naturally, you want to help. Sometimes, we know exactly what to do to make our friends and family feel better. However, sometimes we find ourselves unsure of how to help. At Jackson House, we know how hard it can be when someone you love has a mental illness.

You may worry about what to say or how to act. Maybe you want to encourage them to seek treatment but aren’t sure how to approach the conversation. If you’ve ever found yourself in any of these circumstances, this blog was written for you.

We hope this information offers some guidance and hope. Above all else, we want you to know that the most important gift you can give the people in your life is love. The support of loved ones is vital to recovery from a mental illness. By simply being there for your friend or family member, you will make a difference whether you realize it or not.

Know the Warning Signs

If someone you care about is struggling with a mental illness, there is a very good chance you will start to notice changes that may be small or quite noticeable. This is why it is important to know the warning signs associated with mental illness.

  • Withdrawal. If your loved one suddenly stops interacting with friends and family, loses interest in their favorite activities and begins to keep to themselves, this could be a sign something is wrong.
  • Changes in their sleep. It is important to be aware of sudden changes in sleep patterns. It is unusual for someone to start spending many more hours in bed or to stop sleeping.
  • New eating patterns. It may be a red flag if someone you love stops eating or overeating. Be aware of new patterns or behavior around food.
  • Unusual problems with family, friends and co-workers. It can be unsettling if someone who is consistently kind and patient becomes constantly short and irritable. While we all have days where we do not feel like ourselves, if unusual behavior extends beyond a couple of days there may be an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
  • Extreme mood swings. It is not normal to have moods change rapidly to opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. In fact, it can be a sign of mental illness.
  • Difficulty concentrating. Pay attention if you notice your loved one suddenly has difficulty focusing or completing one task at a time.
  • Problems with drugs or alcohol. Some people who are struggling with a mental illness may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.
  • Trouble managing daily stress. We all have to deal with daily stress. It is part of life. If it appears small stress is too much to handle, there could be a larger underlying issue.
  • Talk of suicide. Anytime someone mentions thoughts of suicide it should be taken seriously. Seek help immediately.

While the list above includes possible symptoms of mental illness, remember showing any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean your loved one has a mental health problem. If you are worried about them, the best thing you can do is encourage them to seek help from a medical professional who can properly diagnose a mental illness.

Start the conversation

If you are worried about a loved one, one of the best things you can do is start a conversation. For some, this can be difficult. The following tips are designed to help make it easier for you to know where to start and how to make your loved ones more receptive to what you have to tell them. If you believe your loved one is experiencing extreme psychosis, try to get them to the hospital immediately.

  • Use I statements. Instead of making accusations or telling your loved one what they are doing, focus on how you are feeling or what you’ve noticed. For example, I am worried about you. I would like you to consider reaching out for help.
  • Ease into it gradually. Help your loved one feel comfortable speaking with you before you bring up your concerns.
  • Express your concern and love for the individual. Genuinely let your loved ones know how much you care about them. This information can make a big difference.
  • Listen with compassion. Do not try to debate. Listen with an open heart and an open mind. You may feel tempted to point out inconsistencies or convince your loved one they need help. But sometimes they will not be ready to hear what you have to say. Instead, try to build trust and show support.
  • Give them opportunities to speak. If you do all of the talking, you’ll never learn how your loved one is feeling. Let them share what is on their mind. You may be surprised by what you learn. Don’t pry or force issues.
  • Do not talk down to your loved one. Remember, what your loved one needs most is to know that you care about them. Show them respect and treat them with dignity. Criticism will only make the situation worse.
  • Encourage them to seek help. Tell your loved one you want them to feel better and encourage them to see their doctor or seek help from a professional. Remember, the team at Jackson House is available 24/7. You can call us at 619-303-0933 or the 24 hours crisis line at Alvarado Parkway Institute at 619-333-7050.
  • Ask how you can help. Sometimes the best way to help your loved one is asking them what they need and how they want you to help.

Take Care of Yourself

It is so important to take care of yourself while you provide support for a person who is suffering from a mental illness. Caring for a loved one can present a lot of challenges and frustrations that can also affect your life. You cannot provide help and support if you are not maintaining a healthy lifestyle. You may want to consider seeking support from a professional, family and friends. Maintain a healthy routine by doing things that bring you joy.

While, at times, it may feel challenging to support your loved one and you may even wonder if your efforts are having an impact. Trust us, your support, love and consistent presence will have a huge impact on their mental health and recovery.


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About the author

Jackson House

Jackson House

We built Jackson House because we realized there was a critical gap in our healthcare system and many individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems were struggling because of it. While there are many outpatient treatment options and locked, inpatient facilities there was nothing in the middle. Nothing to help people who needed around the clock care but wanted to receive treatment voluntarily, on their own terms. Jackson House is different. We provide clients with the level of care they need in a welcoming environment. When you walk through our doors, we will meet you wherever you’re at and help you on your journey toward feeling better.

It's time to feel better

We are here to help and we are in-network with most insurance providers. Call us for a free and confidential consultation.

If you’re a provider and need to send us information on a client, please feel free to fax us at 619-303-7044. If you need help immediately, call our 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-766-4274. If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Jackson House is licensed by the State of California Community Care Licensing Division and certified by the Department of Health Care Services. We are also CARF Accredited. If you have any client or quality of care concerns, please reach out to us at (888) 255-9280. If your concerns need further attention, you can contact the Department of Public Health at 619-278-3700 or the Community Care Licensing Division at 1-844-538-8766.