In any given year, only about 60% of people with a mental illness get mental health care. Whether they get that care or not, family members and loved ones often play a large role in helping and supporting someone who has a mental illness. It can be difficult and frustrating when a loved one has a mental illness, and it can put a strain on your relationship. It can be difficult to communicate with each other effectively, and you may not understand how they see things, but there are ways you can help them, and maintain your relationship with them.
The main thing to remember is that you can’t change your loved one, you can only change yourself and how you react. Find out as much information as you can about what they’re going through, so that you have a better understanding, and so that you can try to prepare for any symptoms there are, or will, exhibit. Researching and learning will also help you to not buy into stigmas about their illness. We all have our own preconceptions and false beliefs about different mental illnesses; it’s important you don’t fall back on those, and that you can learn to separate the illness from the person. The more you learn about your loved one’s mental illness, the more you will be able to see situations from their perspective.
We oftentimes look at what we’re doing and see how our intentions motivate our actions, but we rarely look at other people’s actions and see their intentions. We tend to assume people’s behavior is conscious and deliberate all the time, while that simply isn’t the case. This can be especially true for anyone whose mental illness is expressed through social behavior. While it’s natural to have hurt feelings, or be embarrassed, you should remember that those behaviors are part of their illness, they’re most likely not deliberately being difficult, and try not to overreact. However, you should keep in mind that this never excuses cruel or violent behavior.
Don’t fall back into thinking that there isn’t anything you can do to change anything. If you and your loved one are having problems communicating, you can still make a conscious effort to improve that aspect of your relationship. You can work with each other to find the most effective way of communicating, and you can see a psychologist for talk therapy if necessary. A good way to communicate is to give them your perspective, rather than just telling them what to do. For example, “I am concerned because you don’t seem interested in what I’m saying,” is a much more effective statement than, “You’re not listening to me.” Saying exactly what you mean rather than hinting at something is also a better way to communicate.
While it can be easy to focus all our attention on one person in our lives who is struggling, don’t forget your other relationships with friends and family. This goes for both you and your loved one; if you’re both stuck together with no outside support, you’ll both eventually become exhausted with the situation, and possibly resent each other. It will give you both the strength you need to work with each other on your relationship. You can also join a support group, either in person or online, to talk to others who are going through the same thing.
While you should certainly try to accommodate for your loved one’s illness, you shouldn’t completely erase all need for basic structure and expectations. Make sure you both know each other’s expectations for your relationship, especially if you are living together. The most important thing is that your home is your safe space, and everyone should work to make sure it stays that way. Do have a plan in case something happens to threaten that safe space, but make sure everyone knows about the standards you each expect for daily life.
Above all, make sure your loved one knows they can rely on you for support, and demonstrate that to them by being consistent and loving, even when you’re both frustrated. By communicating effectively, and learning how to support each other, you’ll maintain your relationship with them.