Having a loved one who is suffering from a psychiatric disorder can be tough. As family members and friends, it can feel paralyzing to want to help but not know how. Below are some basic tips and advice for navigating this often complicated situation.
- Don’t give advice; just listen. There is a tendency for all of us to try to fix the problems we see and hear about in others. Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with psychiatric issues, problem solving is not usually the answer. Saying things like “exercise more” or “just snap out of it,” while well-intentioned, can come across as invalidating or convey the message that you only want to brush away their concerns. What most people benefit from the most is having someone who loves them sit down with them and really listen. Hear what they are saying, and let them know that you care and understand. If you don’t understand, ask them to explain it more. Stay nonjudgmental and offer gentle encouragement that you know they are struggling.
- Ask about what they need; don’t assume. It can be tempting to think you understand everything they are feeling, and that they simply need someone to take care of some errands or chores. Or that they just need time and space. It is more supportive to ask them how they are doing and ask them what they need from you at this time. Many times, just having someone offer to help is enough, but be prepared to help out if you can.
- Know that it won’t last forever, but look out for their safety. The natural course of psychiatric conditions is to ebb and flow. It is important to maintain hope for your family member or friend. If you are concerned about them, check in with them to make sure they are safe. If you are worried about their ability to stay safe, it is important to act. If they make threats to harm themselves in some way, take it seriously. If they seem to be out of touch with reality or are experiencing new or worsening hallucinations, check in with them. Make sure they reach out to their provider, or take them to get an emergency assessment. For some areas, this means going to the closest emergency department; for other areas, there are mobile crisis services which can come to you. There are treatments and therapies that can help.
- Keep in mind that no matter how stressful this can be for you, it is likely harder for the person suffering. It can be easy to get caught up in your own stress of wanting to help, but no matter how tough it can be, it is likely much harder on the person dealing with the illness. Tapping in to empathy about their struggle is sometimes the best and most helpful thing that we can do for another person.
Remember it is not your job to fix or solve their issues; it is your job to care for them. It is just as important to make sure that you care for yourself, so that you can be there when you are needed. For more information, please visit NC NAMI at http://naminc.org/ or NC Al-Anon at http://al-anon.org/al-anon-in-north-carolina.