In honor of Valentine’s Day, Menninger psychologist Patricia Daza, PhD, ABPP, shares five ways to show family and friends with mental illness you care about them.
Provide reassurance: We don’t always know the right thing to say to family and friends living with mental health challenges. And that’s OK. Even saying, ‘”I don’t know the best way to say this, but I am here for you” can make a world of difference and help them feel supported.
Talk about something other than mental health: Living with mental illness can be exhausting. Give your loved ones a break by engaging them in discussions that don’t revolve around mental health. At a loss for topics? Favorite TV shows, sports teams or hobbies are always solid conversation starters.
Make plans: Having something to look forward to provides hope for the future. Work together with your loved one to set easily accomplished short-term goals, leading up to a rewarding, long-term goal, such as saving money to see a beloved band in concert or completing a project.
Be present and persistent: People with mental illness often decline invitations because they may be anxious or they don’t feel up to social situations. Lower the pressure by arranging a relaxing outing that isn’t heavy on eye contact or conversation, like seeing a movie or walking together in the park. Continue to reach out even if they say “no.” Next time, they may say “yes.”
Seek support for yourself: Caring for someone living with a mental illness isn’t easy. Support groups offer a safe space to share experiences with others going through similar challenges and to gain insight and information about mental health. Contact your local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter or do a quick web search to find groups near you. A chat with a trusted friend can also work wonders to recharge your mind and spirit.
Dr. Daza is a senior psychologist and the director of Psychology Services at Menninger. She also oversees Menninger’s training of doctoral and post-doctoral psychology students, made possible by the generous support of our donors.