How to Support a Loved One with Mental Health Issues

Published by Fardeen Sheikh on

How to Support a Loved One with Mental Health Issues

Amanda Funger | Avant-y News

Almost everyone has been affected by mental health struggles, whether personally or when trying to support a loved one. Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States with about one in five Americans experiencing it yearly and about 50% of people being diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their life.

The deadly coronavirus pandemic has also worsened these numbers, due to a lack of social connections and loss of income taking a toll. During the pandemic, more than 56% of young people (aged 18-24) have reported feeling symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorders. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, this is a long-term issue that won’t disappear once the pandemic is over.

Supporting someone struggling with mental health is a little complicated, in that there are a variety of treatments available. It is a personal decision between a person and their mental health care provider with what treatments work best for them.

But one of the most important things you can do is to offer them a kind, compassionate and non-judgmental space–a space where feelings are validated and not minimized, and they feel comfortable to open up and discuss what they are going through.

Struggling with your mental health, especially having a mental health crisis, can be a very dark moment, and that is why it’s instrumental to have a support network of people who are willing to provide help and to listen.

Sierra Hillsman, a licensed counselor and certified clinical trauma professional, adds onto this point by saying that one very important thing an individual can do is “checking in with yourself and the beliefs that you currently hold regarding psychological health disorders, because sometimes that can be a barrier in being fully present for a friend that’s struggling.”

According to Victoria Glover, an associate professional counselor and trauma-trained clinician, “It is also important that for supporting people in a person’s life to have some type of education regarding what they are going through. Not necessarily going to school for it, but reading about what they might be going through on forums or attending a support group of some kind and learning what their triggers are and what symptoms they might be exhibiting so that they can empathize a little bit more.”

Several organizations offer educational resources regarding psychological health.

Free Your Feels is a mental health awareness campaign in Georgia that has multiple resources for youths, educators, parents and caregivers. Another great organization is Virtue Mental, a mental health nonprofit that aims to provide free mental health resources to underprivileged communities.

Virtue Mental was founded in June 2020 by Poonam Rahman, as a way to provide free mental health resources to underrepresented groups, such as online support groups with mental health professionals for South Asians, women, Latinx individuals and LGBTQ+ individuals, as well as a general support group. 

Rahman started Virtue Mental because of her passion for creating greater accessibility of mental health resources, especially for historically marginalized communities. She was also inspired to become an advocate for mental health after experiencing stigma in the South Asian community.

Poonam Rahman, CEO and Founder of Virtue Mental. Photo courtesy of Poonam Rahman.

The mental health professionals in the various support groups for marginalized communities are always people belonging to those communities. According to Rahman, it is important to have mental health professionals with minority backgrounds in the support groups because “it’s very beneficial for the people attending those groups to have someone who looks like them, has a similar upbringing as them and who they can relate to in those groups.”

Being educated is not the only way to help loved ones. Another essential tip that Glover has for someone trying to help a loved one struggling with their mental health is to have patience, and that while they are there to offer love and support, they also cannot change the situation that an individual is in. Therefore, it is essential to know and understand their boundaries and to be clear with what they can contribute to that person’s life and what they cannot.

Hillsman adds to this by stating that there are two types of social support that you can provide: instrumental and emotional.

According to Hillsman, “Emotional support looks like holding space for a person, being a listening ear, maybe even giving a hug or literally just sitting down next to them. It is making your presence known in their life. Instrumental support is the more tangible ways of showing that appreciation, affection or assistance. If a person is struggling to get out of bed, then their friend could come over to their house and ask them if they want to take a walk around the block, or if they are unable to make it outside, then offering to do their groceries or doing an activity together. Just reminding them that they have that support.”

Lauteasha Williams, a marriage and family therapist, adds to this by saying, “Having a strong social support system is very great to help ease some of that anxiety or fears that may be overwhelming or uncomfortable. But still having someone that you can trust that you know will hold your confidence without judgment and be supportive to really say ‘I don’t have the answers, but let me help you to find the answers that you need.’”

A great resource that people can turn to if they are having a mental health crisis is a local hotline. Georgia has its own hotline called the Georgia Crisis and Access Hotline (GCAL), which is a 24/7 hotline for Georgia residents, where you can call somebody if you are experiencing a mental health crisis and they can come to you for free. You can also contact the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities  (DBHDD) and receive support in accessing local resources across Georgia.

Another avenue is national hotlines, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), specifically their Georgia chapter where you can find several resources. There is also the Suicide Prevention Hotline. You can also contact CHRIS180. There is also Open Path Collective, where you pay a one-time lifetime membership and you get access to their therapists that charge $30-$60 a session.

You can also go with a loved one who is having mental health struggles to the ER, where they can receive a mental health assessment. Several mental health professionals have also recommended checking into facilities such as Grady Hospital, Lakeview Behavioral Health, Highland Rivers Hospital, Pathways Center, Laurel Heights Hospital, Anchor Hospital, the Ridgeview Institute, Winn Way Mental Health Center, Emory Hospital, Willowbrook Counseling Center, Peachford Hospital or Northside Hospital, among many other facilities in Georgia if an individual is having a mental health crisis. You can also go to your insurance provider and they will provide you with a list of mental health providers.

If an individual does not have insurance then other resources that have been recommended include going to PsychologyToday.com, where you can sort through mental health providers based on your insurance, such as Aetna, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Medicare and Medicaid. You can also go to BetterHelp.com. You can even ask a therapist whether they have a sliding scale, so if you are paying out of pocket then you can be offered a discounted rate.

There are also lots of cultural organizations that are aimed towards providing mental help to people of various backgrounds. For instance, there are SouthAsianTherapists.org, TherapyForBlackGirls.com and BlackFemaleTherapists.com along with other websites that aim to provide mental health therapy to minority communities.

Despite how common mental health issues are and how widespread the available resources are, there is still a stigma surrounding discussing them and the steps to take to address them. This stigma only intensifies in minority communities. A large part of fighting this stigma around psychological health is openly having conversations about it and being able to talk to people of all ages, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. According to Niti Patel, a marriage and family therapist, “Stigma is a systemic issue; it’s in our families, our communities, our culture, and our society.” Therefore, to challenge the stigma there needs to be conversations around how it’s okay to feel certain ways and to normalise that we are humans and that it’s hard being a human.

Patel clarifies this point, stating that it is sometimes difficult to have these conversations because they can feel uncomfortable and that pushing people to have them when they are not ready can reinforce stigmas. Therefore, she states that it is better to tell someone, “If you’re ready or you want to talk, I’m here for you.” She goes on to say that it is important to focus on the language that feels most comfortable to use if someone is dealing with a mental health issue. Patel states that it is essential to be honest and vulnerable about the natural discomfort that comes with having conversations surrounding mental health and to focus on how to use normalising and validating language when discussing it, this includes using language that is not minimizing and asking if there is anything you can do to help.

Williams mentioned a point similar to Patel, saying, “It is helpful to share from an authentic place. Sometimes that means that we might risk being vulnerable, but being able to understand that vulnerability puts us in a position where others may not have the same experience or may not understand that process but we still don’t shut it down. It’s important to continue the conversation because the more we all do it and we all talk about it and we’re all able to share, we normalize that we’re all human.”

Dr. Neha Khorana, a board-certified psychologist, expressed that we should strive to reach a point where we can talk about mental illness in the same way that we talk about our back pain or headaches in an open and non-judgmental environment.

Young people, especially Gen Z, have been trailblazers in discussing their mental health and destigmatising the topic. On social media, it is normal for people to discuss possible breakthroughs they had while in therapy or to talk about their mental health issues in an open forum. According to Dr. Khorana, young people are talking about their mental health in such a way that wasn’t possible 10 or 20 years ago.

Access to mental health professionals has also increased, with many offering their services online as well. This has allowed more people than ever before to seek mental health services. Dr. Khorana mentioned that she hopes that going to a mental health professional for a check up should be as routine as going to get a physical health check-up. She mentioned that she is a therapist that also sees a therapist, it is just a part of an overall wellness routine.

Dr. Khorana continues, “We should probably be going to seek physical health doctors to prevent physical ailments and we should also be going to see mental health providers to prevent mental ailments. We have physical immunity, but we also have what I’d like to call an emotional immunity. If we can build up our coping skills and the resources to help us, then when we do feel depression or when we do feel anxiety to be able to identify it faster and to be able to know what to do about it sooner so that it’s not as intense.”

Organizations such as Virtue Mental offer great resources for you to get started on your mental health journey through their free virtual support groups. This resource is even more helpful if you are a person from a minority background who would prefer to see a professional with a similar background to you.

Having a therapist that is of a similar background makes the journey a lot easier, but it is not required. According to Hillsman, it comes down to an individual’s cultural competency. She mentions that “just because an individual has the same skin tone or the same ethnic background as you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can relate to you because we all come from different walks of life.” Therefore, it is invaluable to see a therapist who has clinical expertise, is multiculturally competent and is also willing to go on this journey with you. This is why it is integral for an individual to exercise their power of choice and to ask a mental health professional a lot of questions during the initial meet and greet before deciding to go into a partnership with them on their mental health journey.

Taking care of and checking up on our mental health should be a normal part of our overall wellness and health routines. Online mental health services have done a lot to make going to see professionals easier, but there is still a long way to go before it’s accessible to people of all backgrounds.

Going through a mental health struggle can be a very dark time for people and that is why giving someone a safe space where they can vent openly, without judgment and where you can find resources together to get help is of the utmost importance. 

At the end of the day we are all humans with our own individual struggles and knowing that we are not alone and that there are loved ones who can provide support can help alleviate some of that weight. Having a space to be vulnerable and open is an integral part of an individual’s mental health journey.

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Fardeen Sheikh

Fardeen Sheikh is from Stockholm, Sweden, and he has travelled the world at a very young age. Before coming to Atlanta, he’s lived around Europe and the Middle East. He has recently moved back to Sweden, and is going to study Journalism in City, University of London. He enjoys watching movies, drinking inordinate amounts of coffee, photography, writing and drawing–even with his best attempts–stick figures. He speaks Bengali, Hindi, French, English and Swedish, while learning a bunch of new things in his free time.

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