9 Ways to Support a Loved One's Mental Health

By Kayla Smith, Communications and Development Coordinator

One of the many things I love about NAMI Dane County is our commitment to providing support to the family and loved ones of those affected by mental illness. It can be difficult and overwhelming as a family member or loved one to learn how to start navigating the mental health system, understand the specific diagnosis and provide much needed support. Here are some tips that can you can use to help support a loved one who is struggling with a mental health condition.

  • Educate Yourself

It’s crucial that you seek out and learn all you possibly can about your loved one’s mental illness diagnosis and/or addiction. There are many different sources of information...books, films, internet, support groups and others. The more you know, the easier it will be to communicate with and support your family member or loved one. Check out this list of recommended books and videos to get you started.

  • Keep Communication Lines Open

Reassure your family member or friend that you are there for them and they are not alone. Don’t try to force the issue or put pressure on them to get help. Legally, an individual can refuse treatment if they are not causing harm to themselves or others.  

  • Live Your Own Life

Taking care of yourself first is one of the hardest things for family members to do sometimes, but one of the most important. It is crucial that you take care of your own health and your own needs or you may not have the strength to cope or help your loved one. .

  • Know the Warning Signals

Know the warning signals that may trigger an episode in your family member. Be prepared to act before they worsen and get out of control. 

  • Don't Expect Too Much of Yourself

It is natural for your emotions to run high. Feeling angry, frustrated, guilty, confused, or exhausted are all common emotions. These are valid feelings and ones shared by all families of those affected by mental illness.

  • Talk to Others

It is hard sometimes to talk to others about what you are going through. Find someone who you trust and who can understand. Support groups for family members and friends are a great way to learn, cope and develop relationships with others who also have a mental health condition. NAMI Dane County offers a family support group that meets the 1st and 3rd Mondays of every month from 7-8:30pm. 

  • Know that Recovery is Possible

Don't give up! Recovery is most often not a straight path. Remember that relapses are common but wellness is achievable and has been achieved by many.

  • Plan Ahead

I know you don’t want to admit this or even think about it, but the reality is you need to be prepared for another episode. Have telephone numbers...doctor, emergency, admitting hospital, support, advice etc. readily available. Be proactive and help your loved one develop an advance directive or recovery plan while they are stable, which outlines what to do should they deteriorate. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be for you to take action and to cope.

  • Take a NAMI Family-to-Family Class

    The NAMI Family-to Family education course is for families, partners and friends of individuals with mental illness. The course is designed to facilitate a better understanding of mental illness, increase coping skills, and empower participants to become advocates for their family members. The course consists of 12 two-and-a-half hour sessions and was designated as an evidence-based program by SAMHSA. To join an interest list for an upcoming Family-to-Family program, please complete the F2F interest form.