According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
As someone who lives with anxiety, I want to share some tips that have worked for me when it comes to asking my friends and family for help. And I’ve asked my husband to share a few tips on how to help your spouse if he or she has a mental illness.
Just a common courtesy / PSA reminder: I am not a licensed psychologist or mental health professional. I am simply sharing what has worked for me. If you feel like you are in need of professional help, please call your primary care physician.
Tips for Helping Yourself | Opening Up to Friends + Family
I will admit that opening up to my family was difficult for me, and I am someone who loves to talk. I feel like I am very intouch with how I am feeling and my emotions, but after being diagnosed with severe anxiety I was ashamed and disappointed in myself. So I didn’t talk about it to anyone for over a year (until I started going to therapy). I tell you this because I know how difficult it is to open up to friends and family about having a mental illness. It is hard, but it needs to be done.
The first thing I recommend is going to therapy. Your primary care physician can recommend a psychologist, or you can do a little research on your own. There is also virtual therapy if you feel more comfortable with that option.
- I recommend therapy because therapy will help you open up. It’s a great starting place to talk about your emotions, how you feel, and even how you feel about opening up to your friends and family about having a mental illness.
Find your one person. Start with one person. Someone who you know cares and will listen whole-heartedly, without judgement, and will validate your feelings.
- You can have one person at home, you can have one person at work, or you can have one person a phone call or text away.
- If you experience anxiety, let your friends and family know what is giving you anxiety. And that having anxiety is not a choice and you are not in control of it. Then you can share a few ways that they can help you.
Do one thing that is for you at least once a week.
If you easily feel overwhelmed by all of the items on your to do list, whether it be at home or at work, my recommendation is to make a priority list (you can grab a free printable priority list here).
- On the list, you’ll want to put items in one of three categories. Categories should be high priority (items that need immediate attention), mid-priority (items that can wait), and low priority (items that don’t need your attention or maybe things you’d like to try or do, but aren’t super important).
- For larger tasks, break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks before putting them on your priority list.
Make sure you are eating enough and eating healthy. Drink enough water and get enough sleep.
Establish healthy boundaries. This will be something different to each person, as mental health in one person is not the same in any other person.
Seek supportive environments and ask for help.
Tips to Help Someone You Know With a Mental Illness
This brings us to ways that you, a spouse or a friend or colleague of someone with a mental illness, can do to help us:
Above all else, check in on us. Ask how we’re doing, and more than the “hey, how are you? I’m good, how are you?”. Really ask how we’re doing and listen.
- Instead of saying “what’s wrong”, try something along the lines of: “I noticed something is bothering you. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Acknowledge how your friend or spouse feels and be understanding. Be an active listener. And be patient with us.
Educate yourself about mental health problems, and be aware of signs and symptoms that your friend or spouse may be exhibiting.
Recognize all of the things that your friend or spouse is doing. Offering your help to this person may help your spouse or friend feel less overwhelmed.
- Sometimes we (the people with a mental illness) don’t know what will help or what we can have you help us with. It’s not that we don’t want or need the help, our brains are just on overdrive and we just don’t have the brain space to think about it. To help us, try coming up with a solution to something you see us struggling with and offer your help with that thing specifically. For example, “Is there anything I can copy or laminate for you?” or “Let me take care of the laundry and dishes this weekend.”
Please don’t use any of the following phrases:
- You don’t look anxious or depressed.
- Get over it.
- You’re overreacting.
- Snap out of it.
- It could be so much worse.
- It’s all in your head.
- Stop being so negative and complaining all the time.
- No one said life was fair.
- Stop looking for attention.
Remind your spouse or friend to be in the present and to be mindful of what is happening right now. Reminders that our feelings are valid, but also reminding us that what we are feeling is not necessarily true.
Allow us space when we need it. Again, be patient with us.
What tips do you have for self care, or for helping someone you know who has a mental illness? Share your tips with us in the comments below!