From February 13 – 17, my sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, is participating in Healthy Relationships Week. The goal is to encourage college students to share what love means to them and to spread awareness about Domestic Violence. I knew I wanted to write a blog post related to HRW, and while walking to class this morning, I realized how difficult it can be for individuals to support their loved ones who have mental illnesses. To me, love means unconditional support. Remember that you cannot cure their mental illness, but here are some things that you can do to show your support:
*Disclaimer: Not every person with a mental illness will appreciate the same support. This is what personally helps me, but everyone is different.
Do your research
If you know the specific disorder your loved one has, research it online. Educate yourself on what it feels like to have the illness, why it occurs, things that can trigger it, etc. You will have a much better understanding of what the person is going through. Feeling like someone understands can mean the world to them.
Avoid questions like, “why are you so depressed?”
There probably isn’t a specific reason why the person is so depressed or anxious. A lot of times, it just happens and we have no clue why. Instead, try asking, “is there anything specific going on right now?” This way, if there is a root cause, you can get to it without coming off as shaming.
Be there for them
Make it known that you are here for them and you’re not going anywhere. Tell them that they can call or text you at any time and when you’re available you’ll respond. You don’t need to be physically or digitally present 24/7 (you have your own life, too), but the person will feel less like they are burdening you when the support is offered instead of asked for.
Try not to get frustrated
Mental illness is complicated. I know when I’m anxious, I’m often being irrational, but there’s nothing that I can do about it. Try to stay as calm as possible and help them get through the situation. What is going on in their head may not make sense to you (or them, either) but you have to remember that they can’t necessarily control their thoughts.
Try to distract them
Invite them to various activities, talk to them about random subjects, or send them pictures of animals. Any small gesture will be appreciated. My anxiety and depression are the worst when I am sitting alone in my room with nothing to do. Even a quick text could boost their mood slightly.
If you want to help support Alpha Chi Omega in Healthy Relationships Week, post what love means to you on social media using the hashtag #healthyAXOlove. If you attend UMass Amherst, use the hashtag #HRW17ItsOnUs. Make sure to follow my chapter (Delta Mu) on Instagram!