“Reach out” might be some of the most common and most frustrating advice to get when you’re depressed or struggling with another mental health concern, since the very nature of emotional challenges can make reaching out feel very difficult. But the other people in your life are going to have an impact on how you feel and how you relate to the world whether you reach out to them or not – and when you’re having a hard time, the people who love you most are going to want to help you out – but they may not know how.
Ways family and friends can help
Whether you open up the conversation or they do, there’s a good chance that if you’re having a hard time, at some point a friend, family member, or partner may ask you what they can do to help. When figuring out an answer to that question, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.
- Set a check-in: If one of the things you struggle with in managing your mental health is following support plans or treatment plans, or sticking to lifestyle changes (like changes to your sleep schedule or exercising regularly), setting up check-ins with family, friends, or your partner can be a great way to make sure you give your treatment plan the commitment it needs. Setting this up with the people in your life yourself, and choosing who to talk to about it, can help you engage with and feel control over your support or treatment. More than that, if you don’t want to talk about the why, you can still benefit from the support of the people in your life just by involving them in your new routines – say, by setting up a weekly walk with a friend.
- Ask them to become more informed: Yes, communication with the people in your life is important, but that doesn’t mean it’s your job to teach a course on mental health to each important person in your life. In some cases, it can feel good or useful for the person dealing with emotional complications to talk about what that feels like, but for those who don’t feel like this kind of conversation is helpful, it’s totally reasonable to ask a family member, partner, or friend to do some of their own research about what you might be dealing with.
- Encourage them to take care of themselves: Partners, family, and friends can be put under extra stress when they have a loved one with mental health concerns or mental illness. If you’re usually one of the people someone in your support system turns to and you’re struggling at the moment, they may end up struggling as well. If a family member or friend wants to support you, it’s important that they also get the support they need, whether it’s through their own family or friends or a therapist.
- Trust you: Dealing with mental health concerns can feel disempowering, but your loved ones shouldn’t contribute to that feeling. You’re the person who knows the most about how it feels to live your life, and even when mental or emotional complications are having an impact on the way you act and the things you feel, you’re still the authority on your feelings and needs. Sometimes family members and friends who offer support when a loved one is having a hard time can forget that, so it’s never a bad idea for the important people in your life to be reminded.
- Start strong: It’s not always an option, but if you’re dealing with some ups and downs, and you’re having trouble reaching out in the moment when you’re having a hard time, it can be helpful to start the conversation about your mental health, and the support you might find most helpful, on a day when you’re already feeling pretty good. This can mean starting a conversation yourself, or asking someone who offers to help on a bad day if you can wait to have that conversation later. It can be tempting to just enjoy good days when they come, and not bring up bad days during this time, but having a conversation when you’re feeling better can help you feel more in control, and can help you reflect back in a more useful way.
Mental health support while TTC
Trying to conceive can be a stressful time for anyone, and for people already facing mental health concerns, it can add strain in areas that are already stressed. People who struggle while TTC can feel as if their bodies are working against them, and even people whose TTC journeys take them exactly where they want to go face all the stresses of having a baby. During an emotionally-charged time like TTC, it’s especially important to feel supported by the people in your life when it comes to your mental health and well-being.
This certainly can involve emotional support from friends and from family members, who may feel invested in the way your family may grow. In particular, though, when you’re TTC with a partner, it’s important to feel supported by them and to keep yourself on the same page with them about what your growing family needs as much as possible. What this means will be different for every family – whether that involves checking in about periods of time when one or both of you might want to take a break from TTC to let the tension ramp down, or something more involved, like talking to a relationship counselor to make sure you’re both feeling confident about navigating the challenges of the journey toward parenting.
- Kathleen M. Griffiths, Dimity A. Crisp, Lisa Barney, Russell Reid. “Seeking help for depression from family and friends: a qualitative analysis of perceived advantages and disadvantages.” BioMed Central Psychiatry. 11: 196. December 2011. Retrieved July 9 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3271042/.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Depression: supporting a family member or friend.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, August 6 2015. Retrieved July 3 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression/art-20045943.
- “For friends and family members.” MentalHealth.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 26 2017. Retrieved July 3 2018. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members.
- “Learn how to help a loved one through diagnosis and beyond.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. Retrieved July 3 2018. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/improving-care.aspx.
- “Talking with friends and family about mental health concerns.” American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association, June 3 2016. Retrieved July 9 2018. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2016/06/talking-with-friends-and-family-about-mental-health-concerns.