Supporting A Loved One Experiencing Poor Mental Health

Supporting A Loved One Experiencing Poor Mental Health

What do we feel when we have healthy relationships?

Supported? Nurtured? Loved? Cared for? Like you have someone to talk to? Absolutely! When things in life do not go as planned, we can go to our relationships and talk through what has happened, our thoughts, our feelings, and our plans. Therefore, it is only natural that we would seek these relationships when we feel low, anxious, and possibly lack interest in everyday things. We expect and need comfort and guidance from these relationships and this helps us to regulate ourselves, and/or validate what we are experiencing.

However, if we consider for a moment that we are in an unhealthy or poor relationship; we have a relationship that isn’t reliable as a source of comfort. We may also feel ridiculed by others, so who do we go to when times get tough when we need reassurance when we want validation or direction. Relationships like this lead to feeling more alone, insecure, and anxious, and this can cause us to spiral when we don’t seek support.

When we think then about being in a relationship with someone who has a mental health issue, this can put a strain on the relationship. We try to understand and empathize with the other person, but unless you are experiencing or have experienced something similar, you may not be able to completely comprehend their experience.


So, what can you do if you are in a relationship with someone who is experiencing poor mental health?

  • Talk to them: Ask them how they are feeling and ask them to help you understand so that you can better support them. However, be respectful of their boundaries and be mindful that somebody may not want to share everything with you right away.
  • Create a welcoming environment: creating a space whereby you can talk, and they can talk without judgment or worry helps you and them to open up more. Sharing similar experiences or times when you did not feel great and how opening up and seeking support helped you to overcome it. Avoid minimizing their experience or ‘story topping’ though.
  • Suggest activities you can do together that will provide a space and time for them to open up, for example, going for a walk or drive together or just sitting in the garden or local park for a cup of tea.
  • Be aware of limitations. Being a good supporter means knowing when to provide space. If you push too hard or suggest too many activities, this can become overwhelming and potentially appear dominating or frustrating. Start slowly by suggesting one or two changes and go from there.
  • Be encouraging of small, gradual changes. Big changes don’t happen overnight, they happen over time. Little by little you may notice a shift in attitude, mood, sleep pattern, etc. When appropriate to do so, gently relay this. It could encourage more change, but don’t be discouraged if you are met with denial, it can be hard to notice changes in yourself.
  • Look after you! Supporting somebody experiencing mental health issues can be demanding and tiring for us. Make sure you take time to support your relationship with yourself. Is there somebody you can talk to while maintaining privacy and confidentiality? Remember the saying ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’!

Supporting somebody suffering from poor mental health isn’t always an easy situation to be in. However, supporting somebody we love can be rewarding and can bring us closer together. You may have to manage your expectations of your relationship to make space for healing. This might be difficult at first, but relationships are all about flexibility. Do your best to accommodate your loved one while also looking after your own needs and wants. Speaking to a relationship counsellor together, or alone, may be helpful in supporting you to support others.


Tips on creating an open environment for conversation

  • If busy schedules are an issue, carve out a time when you are mutually comfortable and available to discuss the issues at hand. Try not to leave it until last thing at night as fatigue could lead to arguments or lack of concentration. Both parties deserve to be heard and able to properly convey their thoughts/feelings.
  • Go somewhere comfortable. Go to the living room, a warm area in the garden, or a peaceful, airy room. Sitting on stools in the kitchen or conversing about sensitive issues in the bedroom can lead to feeling physically uncomfortable or relating that room to arguments and ill feelings toward one another.
  • Listen to each other, let one another talk, and wait until the conversation is finished before feeding back. This shows respect and a willingness to hear one another.
  • Be self-aware of how you are conveying yourself. Our tone of voice, our body language, and language itself can tell the other person you don’t care, you aren’t listening, you are annoyed or angry, or possibly that you think they are being silly.
  • Learn from one another. As much as you may want to understand how the other person experiences anxiety/depression etc, it is also important to understand how the other person feels during these times when they witness someone, they care for going through these difficult times.
  • Be open to one another, to learning new things, to expressing or hearing a new way to manage situations together. You may just stumble upon a new way to manage a panic attack, or maybe discuss contacting the GP/Counsellor.
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“How Relate NI helps people”

Our counsellor was excellent and really helped me and my husband to resolve the niggles in our relationshipService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Couples
My counsellor was lovely, attentive and supportive. She helped me to understand my worth and for that, I will always be gratefulService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Individuals
This service is invaluable. Such lovely people to meet and help you through difficult times.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Couples
The service was excellent, my counsellor was really good at getting us to open up and helping us to get to the root of our issues. We have definitely improved our communication since attending.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Couples
I found the Relationship MOT an excellent method of focusing on how we work as a couple and just as importantly, where we need to work. It was professional, insightful and well worth the time. It has reminded us of how much we have to be proud of in our relationship and why it is so important to occasionally review it with experts.Service Attended Relationship MOT
I would definitely recommend using the Relationship MOT service as a bit of a check in with your partner. I thought how the counsellor was able to steer the conversation was very insightful and nuanced. The MOT reminded us about why we are great together but also the importance of communication and respect.” “Our counsellor provided an outside perspective which immediately helped us to agree that we needed to stop and think with more kindness and empathy for each other especially when stressed or pissed off. We both felt that our counsellor’s excellent and gentle facilitation was quite invigorating. So many positives!Service Attended Relationship MOT 2
Very Interesting Content. I like the concept of preparing your relationship before you have problemsService Attended Sustaining Healthy Relationships – Surestart 4
The face to face programme has made me feel connected with others experiencing similar thingsService Attended Sustaining Healthy Relationships – Surestart 3
The workshops made me more confident to balance family life after the baby's arrivalService Attended Sustaining Healthy Relationships – Surestart 2
I now have a better understanding of myself, it is good to know that it is normal to have argumentsService Attended Sustaining Healthy Relationships – Surestart 1
I felt the weekly questionnaire, couples with the counsellor's understanding of my needs help contribute to my own understanding of my mental health and needs throughout.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Individuals
I loved every session. Our counsellor listened to what we had to say and gave us helpful wee homework - would recommend this service to everybodyService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Couples
Our counsellor was a fantastic support - we now feel strong enough to continue working on our relationship togetherService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Couples
I had a very good counsellor that helped me through a lot and it has made me come out the other side.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Individuals
Counselling took us from a bad place to a good one and I would return if neededService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Couples
Been a lifeline to help us fall in love again - forever grateful!Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Couples
I would just like to say that when I first came for counselling I felt that I was drowning.  I have completed my sessions and I now feel that I can cope a lot better with everything.  Thank you for a brilliant service.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Individuals
Thank you Relate NI for a good nights sleep.Service Attended Relate NI Kids Counselling
Really enjoyed Relate NI and I'm actually going to miss counselling.  I Found it helpful to find myself again. Very fair and equal within our relationship.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Couples
I appreciated the straightforward, helpful and informed observations about situations. It really helped me cope during Christmas which is a difficult time for usService Attended Family Counselling
The counsellor was very pleasant to meet with.  They had the necessary skills to speak and listen when appropriate.  I liked their humour and good personality.Service Attended Family Counselling
Relate NI has helped me move on as well as understand myself and situation more.  My counsellor listened to me, facilitated me and was compassionate!Service Attended Relate NI Teen Counselling
I felt the weekly questionnaire, coupled with counsellor's understanding of my needs helped contribute to my own understanding of my mental health and needs throughoutService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Individuals
We had four funded sessions and cannot express how grateful we are for the help, guidance and knowledge. Our counsellor was incredibly professional, and her experience and obvious passion for helping couples like us was exceptional. She helped us to understand ourselves and each other like we otherwise never would have been able to.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Couples
I have tried counselling many times in the past. This time actually made a difference. I was able to complete online sessions as well as some face to face.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Individuals

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