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Supporting loved ones’ mental health from a distance

Adults |

For many of us, this period of self-isolation seems neverending. We might be simply getting tired of being home all the time, missing our friends and daily activities, or be feeling exhausted from playing parent, teacher, worker, and partner all in the same day. And for those of us with mental health issues, this time can feel like even more of a struggle. Mental health conditions can make an already-difficult time even worse, and it’s vital that we support those we care about who are dealing with them even if we cannot physically hug them. Here are some ways to support your loved ones’ mental health struggles from a distance:

Reach out regularly, even when you don’t know what to say

You don’t always need to know what to say, and in those times, it’s perfectly fine to say, “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” or “I’m not really sure what to say, but know that I’m there for you.” You can also have some questions ready to go, such as:

  • Just checking in… how are you feeling?
  • How has your sleep been recently?
  • What’s something coming up soon you’re looking forward to?
  • What’s something we can do together while maintaining social distancing?

If you want to show someone that you care but aren’t sure how to help, just ask! Asking them, “what can I do to help you?” is straightforward and lets the person you care about know that you actually want to help.

Give them a little more grace than you normally would

These are challenging times for all, especially for those struggling with their mental health. Try your best to be more understanding and forgiving with your loved ones right now. Practice empathy and treat them with positive regard. Now is not the time to criticize their life choices. It’s often hard to know what someone’s really going through, looking from the outside in. Give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them with compassion.

Learn their love languages and take advantage

It’s time to get creative! Take the time to learn how your loved one likes to receive support – some common ones are through acts of service (favors), verbal affection or affirmation, or gifts. Learn what means the most to them and do your best to do more of that – it means a lot on its own just showing someone you’re going out of your way to support them in the most special ways to them. This could look like sending them a text every few days letting them know you’re thinking about them, dropping off some cookies or a care package on their front porch, going for a socially distanced walk in the park together, or making and giving them a photo album of some of your best memories together.

Get comfortable with asking the hard questions

No one likes having difficult conversations, but when it comes to mental health, they’re absolutely essential; and especially when it comes to persistent, pervasive and intense mental illnesses. Sometimes we’re called to find the courage to ask if someone is harming themselves physically or is thinking of killing themselves. Though these are the most extreme cases, if it seems to you that someone is struggling, ask them about it. Let them know that it’s ok with you if they’re not “ok,” and that you’ll be there to support them no matter what. Something like, “you’ve seemed a little down lately, is everything alright?” asks the question and expresses concern without making assumptions. Don’t let the fear of “ruining the mood” get in the way of supporting your family and friends when they really need it.

Refrain from giving advice unless you’re asked

It’s often our first instinct to give someone advice when they tell us about their problems, but often what this does is make someone feel even less supported and isolated than before. It’s human nature to want to “fix” things, but sometimes we just need to be a listening ear for those we care about – and that’s better than any possible “solution” you can come up with. If you can, let your loved ones vent and get off their chest what they need to. Respond with concern and empathy, not instructions. This looks like, “wow, that sounds really tough. I’m sorry you’re feeling this way,” or “thank you for telling me. I can see that you’re struggling and I’m here for you.”

Finally, supporting someone struggling with their mental health isn’t easy – it can be taxing on you too. Make sure you charge full-steam-ahead into your self-care during times when you’re supporting others to ensure that A) your mental health stays healthy, and B) you’re refilling your batteries effectively so that you can support your loved ones the way you want to. Make sure you meet your own needs first so that you can effectively help others – this is non-negotiable. Lastly, if you’ve been trying to support a loved one with serious mental health issues and think they would benefit from professional help, read about how you can encourage them to seek therapy.