*Please note: I am not a therapist and the information below may be triggering as it relates to mental health. Though this blog does not give explicit details but resources, it does give general examples. If you or your loved one are in a crisis, please reach out to a therapist or, in an emergency, call 911.
October 10th was World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 8 people live with a mental health disorder globally. In places that have higher adverse childhood experiences, like New Mexico, this number increases. This means it is likely that each of us has either experienced or has a loved one experiencing a mental health condition or crisis. Yet, the stigma behind mental health conditions means many people avoid talking about them. Even worse, it can make people feel alienated as if others are distancing themselves from your family.
» » RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Pregnancy and Postpartum Mental Health Resources in Albuquerque
When supporting a loved one with a mental health condition (whether it be your siblings or parents, your partner/spouse, or maybe even one of your other children), good communication and self-care are crucial. Throughout my journey with a loved one with a mental health condition, I’ve learned some things I’d like to share with you.
Important Things to Know
At the beginning of this journey with my loved one, I often felt alone.
It didn’t matter that my family was right there or that I had friends that cared for me. At times, things felt so heavy with my loved one’s illness that I believed that no one understood what our family was going through and often stayed closed up in my home. The judgment I felt from others made getting out and about an effort in itself. This shifted when I was able to learn more about mental health conditions and connect with others. Please know that:
- You are not alone.
- No one is exempt from experiencing a mental health condition.
- Mental health conditions are no one’s fault.
- Mental health conditions are biological and affect complex behaviors, changing how people think, feel, and act.
- Many mental health conditions are common and treatable.
Strategies for Communicating Effectively
The blame and guilt that I carried clouded most of my communication for so many years. As a result, this complicated my communication with my loved one as I frequently put blinders on. It was also difficult for me to create clear boundaries. Below are some important communication strategies:
- Keep the content of communication simple, using short, clear sentences.
- Try to keep the stimulation level as low as possible.
- Try to stay neutral and supportive.
- Communicate your boundaries, making sure they are attainable and they are in your control.
- Use I-statements.
- Don’t put blinders on–you have to do your best to see things for what they are.
- Acknowledge your loved one’s reality of their lived experience, not what the reality is for you.
- Respond with a focus on what your loved one is experiencing, not what you are feeling.
Take Care of Yourself
Surrounding myself with others who understand my situation is critical to me. I don’t have space in my life for those who try to place judgment on me or my family, who don’t have empathy, or those who believe mental illness is a choice that people can just snap out of. In saying that, I also need people in my life who help give me insight through an objective perspective.
» » » » » RELATED READ: 4 Reasons to Consider Seeing a Mental Health Therapist « « « « « «
Embedding mindfulness and yoga into my day, even if it is only 10-15 minutes, brings me balance and strength. Being in nature fills my soul. On the hardest of days, a good hike or walk by the river fills me with peace and gets me back to finding hope and appreciation. I’m reminded through those things how much I have to be grateful for even in the hardest of times.
I won’t sugarcoat things and say that these things make everything feel all right and fix it all, but I can say they help.
Something I remind myself on those hard days with my loved one is that every day is a new day, and we can start anew. It’s just as important to remember that for ourselves as it is for our loved ones. Here are some important self-care tips that have helped me:
- Put on your “oxygen mask” before putting it on your children and loved ones.
- Accept you are on this journey. It may be new to you or it may be years, but it can still feel new at times.
- Do the best you can and stop beating yourself up over what you didn’t do or feel you did wrong.
- Stick to reasonable boundaries you have set, even though it may be difficult. You and your children’s safety are key.
- Keep yourself and your family safe, and call in help when you need it.
- Take time for yourself, whether it’s 10 minutes or a couple of hours.
- Connect with others who are going through similar experiences.
NAMI (US National Alliance on Mental Illness) provides free resources to individuals dealing with a mental health condition, loved ones of individuals with a mental health condition, and those in the mental health field. There are free classes, support groups, and many other resources. There are local affiliates throughout the US and you can find the Albuquerque affiliate here.
On this journey too,
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.