“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 mental illness can make reaching out feel impossible. 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. Wanting to doesn’t mean they’ll know how, though, and it’s also possible that you won’t know exactly what they can do, either.
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, will 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.
- Start strong: If you’re having trouble opening up a conversation about mental health when you’re having trouble, it can be helpful to try to have that first 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.
- Set a check-in: If one of the things you struggle with in managing your mental health is following 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 maintain control and agency in your own 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 jog with a friend.
- Have them do the research: 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 cathartic for the person dealing with a mental illness to talk about the details of that illness, 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.
- 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 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 illness is 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.
Mental health support during pregnancy
Pregnancy 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. Pregnancy involves physical and hormonal changes unlike during any other time in life, and it’s not always possible to predict the impact those changes will have on mental health, even in the most physically healthy of pregnancies. On top of the physical changes associated with pregnancy, parents-to-be face all the stresses of adding a new person to the family. During an emotionally-charged time like pregnancy, it’s especially important to feel supported by the people in your life when it comes to your mental health and well-being.
This support may involve emotional support from friends and from family members, who may feel invested in the way your family may grow. But when you’re pregnant or parenting with a partner, it’s especially important to feel supported by them and to stay on the same page about what your growing family needs. What this means will be different for every family. One family may need something as simple as a basic check-in about how you’re both feeling or what you’re worrying about, while another family might benefit from something more involved, like talking to a relationship counselor to make sure you’re both feeling confident and united about your parenting journey.
- 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.