When a family member struggles with mental illness

Your Family
When a family member struggles with mental illness

Witnessing a loved one struggle with mental health is painful.  We may find ourselves confused and upset by their actions, leaving us unsure how to be helpful without adding to the struggle.  Here are some simple suggestions that can offer both comfort and helpful guidance to the person you love.

  • Establish boundaries. Where does their struggle turn into your struggle?  Take some time to determine your willingness, as well as the limits, to your involvement.  Remember that involvement is helpful, while over-involvement often limits your loved one's progress.  Clearly communicate these boundaries.
  • Determine reasonable expectations.  All of us have different ways of handling problems.  Based on your own family situation, develop realistic, achievable expectations. 
  • Be careful of the problem-solver role.  Offering support and listening goes a long way.  At times people in distress need to vent.  This is not always a call to action for their support team.
  • Be mindful about how you communicate your thoughts and feelings.  Problems often come from HOW we say things rather than what we are actually saying.  For instance, saying “Have you considered getting help?” typically generates a completely different response than, “You need therapy.”   
  • It might be appropriate to just say “no.”  While it is difficult to say no to a loved one, sometimes it is necessary and in the best interest of this person you love.