Loving someone with a mental illness is…a lot! It’s not easy. It can seem like the other person is selfish. It can be a heavy load and it can be at times really frustrating. You don’t want to turn the person away and seem like you don’t care but also, you can only do what you can do. I say it all the time but you can’t pour from an empty cup. It can seriously be overwhelming and you’re not the one dealing with the mental illness, you’re on the receiving end. What the person says or do can be irritating and can make you really upset. We’re all imperfect.
Being an empath can be a lot, especially when dealing with someone with a mental illness. I’m not saying don’t be empathetic but know your boundaries. Empath burnout is real. Empathy burnout comes about when a person is regularly expending much of their energy—emotional, physical, mental—to care for others to the point that they, themselves, feel exhausted. You don’t have to be superwoman or superman.
This subject has been near and dear to my heart. I recently actually experienced a situation where this topic sort of came to my mind and I wish me and the person’s conversation went different. After that phone call, I wanted the person to understand what it’s like for someone with a mental illness. I figured if others had the tools, then I can give them some type of insight on how to deal with and love those with a mental illness.
I have anxiety and depression. I’m always on edge and worried all the time (I put a pause on therapy for now for the simple fact that I can’t afford it right now). I feel alone. My best friends live far away from me and even though I’m renting a room from someone, its mostly me and my cat for most of the time. When hard times hit me, boy do they hit me. I feel alone and like a burden. I know it’s Dolores making me feel this way but sometimes, I start to believe it. Sometimes I feel like my loved ones are better off without me and yeah my mind goes to suicide.
So, what can you do if someone you know and love have a mental illness? Here are some tips to help yourself and them.
- Encourage them to seek professional help. You’re not a professional. You’re not their therapist. It will save you the trouble of trying to help the person when you don’t have the capacity to help them the way that you or the other person may want you to. You don’t want to get burnt out!
- Let them share how they’re feeling. Listen to them. Don’t interrupt just listen. If they say something you don’t like, know that it’s just their mental illness manifesting. Which brings me to my next point.
- Learn the symptoms. Know what the symptoms are for that particular mental illness. It will save you from making assumptions about the person. Which brings me to my next point.
- Don’t take it personal. Mental illness can manifest in a number of ways. Do not make the wrong assumptions about what the person is doing or thinking. Doing so will either drive the person away from you or can make a wedge in your relationship with the person. The person is not doing things for attention.
- If you feel their life is in immediate danger, report it. The person may get mad. Maybe not, but if you feel that he/she will hurt themselves, report it. You can literally save a life. It’s better for the person to be upset with you than to attend their funeral.
- Show love. If you’re able to, spend some time with the person. Bring them a meal or help them with a task. Maybe send a loving text or let them know that you are thinking and praying for them. Share a helpful scripture with them if they’re religious.
- Speak consolingly. Don’t yell at them. Don’t argue. Listen to the person and really listen. If the person ask for your opinion, give it. If you have to have the same conversation repeatedly or constantly remind them of your love for them then so be it. If the person repeats his or herself a lot, understand that they are struggling right now. The right word at the right time can make a world of a difference. Don’t minimize the person’s feelings. If something the person says or do infuriates you, wait until you are calm and don’t force them to talk about it if they’re not ready yet.
- Know your boundaries and take care of yourself. You have to have your boundaries. If you cannot deal at the moment, let the person know. Don’t just ignore the person because it will make the situation worst. You need to do your own self-care practices, whatever it looks like for you. Again, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Know your limits and stay there. If you don’t have the mental capacity to deal, know your limits.
Know that we love you and appreciate you and your attempts to help. We may not show it at the time but we love you and when we come out on the other side, celebrate with us. Please be patient when loving someone with a mental illness.
- NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
- American Psychiatric Association
- Mental Health.gov
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
How can you support someone you love with a mental illness? If you have a mental illness yourself, what do you wish people understood about it or you?