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Caring for a sick loved one is never easy. Managing pain, symptoms, and trips to the doctor can be difficult for everyone involved. These tasks can become even more challenging when your loved one struggles with a mental illness. From depression and anxiety to alcohol abuse and eating disorders, the symptoms can be harder to identify and treatment options more difficult to pursue. Additionally, your loved one may resist treatment or help because of stigma or embarrassment.

How can you help and support a loved one with a mental illness?

Mental illness, like physical illness, is a real disease. Don’t minimize your loved ones symptoms. Feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, or depression can be overwhelming and deserve serious attention. You’re loved one isn’t able to just “snap out of it” and move on. Learn about their illness and respect their feelings.

Encourage your loved one to exercise and get outdoors. Offer to go with them! Exercise can make a big difference in the life of someone struggling with mental illness. Time spent outside works to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improves mood. Exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals and provides an opportunity to break away from negative thoughts. Your loved one may lack the motivation to get out on their own, so offer your company! The increased social interaction is also beneficial.

Help provide healthy meals and avoid alcohol and fatty foods. While certain foods won’t relieve depression or mental illness, they can help as part of an overall treatment plan. Help cook nutrient meals high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Many people with depression also struggle with alcohol. While providing a sense of false relief in the short term, overtime, alcohol can exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety, negatively affect sleep, and negate the effectiveness of certain medications.

Take all threats seriously. Talk of suicide or harming oneself should never be taken lightly. Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area who can provide advice. Offer to bring him or her to a local emergency room or crisis center. Your loved one will be more likely to seek help if you accompany them. And with all threats, contact your loved one’s primary care physician or mental health provider, if known.

Encourage them to visit their doctor to discuss symptoms. The earlier they seek treatment the better their chance of recovery. Talk to your loved one about their symptoms and encourage them to write them down and share with a doctor. It can help to remind them that they are in control of their illness and can take proactive steps to help themselves. Doctors may prescribe medication or suggest talk therapy.

With all the above suggestions, it is important to help your loved one know they are not alone and what they are feeling is real. You cannot cure the illness but you can provide the support and stability necessary to make professional treatment a success.

Photo Credit: Katie Hickey