From the US to Australia and everywhere in between, mental health is a growing crisis. In England, mental-health problems among young people are said to have grown sixfold since 1995, while in the US the situation has become so worrisome as to now potentially impact the country’s decreasing life expectancy. There’s no doubt about it – mental health is a serious issue that merits genuine concern and requires immediate recognition and help for those who are suffering from it. Yet it’s not only the individual with the mental health problem that can be affected; very often, their support system – their loved ones, significant others, family, and friends – can also face their fair share of life-changing moments. The problem here is that, very often, they will not receive the support that they need to allow them to continue helping their friend or family member who needs it. Indeed, supporting the support system is often overlooked, but it is undeniably important.
Indeed, supporting the support system is often overlooked, but it is undeniably important.
“When a loved one has a mental illness, it can be a challenge to the entire system; for parents, siblings, a spouse or partner, and friends. Loved ones frequently describe feeling frustrated, a sense of personal failure or not being good enough, and helplessness,” says Farah Dahabi, a Clinical Social Worker and Mental Health First-Aid UAE Lead at LightHouse Arabia. “If you are struggling with having healthy boundaries, establishing self-care, and understanding what your loved one is going through, a mental health professional can help,” she adds, explaining that there are certain ground rules that can help to handle these negative feelings and thought patterns.
According to Dahabi, the ABCs of supporting someone with a mental illness are the following:
Acknowledge your limits.
If you are supporting someone who's struggling with their mental health, it is vital to know that you are not responsible for their happiness or for “fixing” them. You are only responsible for your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
You cannot give what you do not have, and you cannot pour from an empty cup. You must make sure you are caring for yourself or putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. Take time off to do things that recharge you.
Continue learning and connecting.
A lack of accurate information about the illness can lead to hurt feelings and even fear. Getting the right information on what your loved one is experiencing helps you to avoid taking things personally. Connecting with other people can reduce common feelings of isolation and shame. At LightHouse Arabia, we host monthly support groups for caregivers free of charge.
These three simple pointers will go a long way in aiding the support system of someone suffering from a mental illness and in helping them to avoid developing their own related issues in the long run. “People acting as a support system for someone who is struggling with a physical or mental health illness are at risk of becoming burnt out and developing depression or anxiety,” says Dahabi.
She also recommends taking a Mental Health First-Aid course, a 12-hour international evidence-based training that is the equivalent of physical first-aid training but for mental health. “It teaches you how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness in others and yourself,” she says. If you’re looking to take a course, LightHouse Arabia is the only accredited provider of Mental Health First-Aid in the UAE.
Society and the people around us can help as well – whether it directly affects us or not, experts say it’s worth remembering that you never know what the people around us are dealing with, and a little bit of compassion can go a long way. “People can be more sensitive to someone supporting a loved one struggling with a mental health issue by merely acknowledging their struggle. Try saying, ‘Supporting someone with depression can be hard. I can’t imagine what that’s like for you. I’m thinking of you’,” Dahabi says. Whether it’s supporting an individual who is suffering from mental-health problems, or if you’re trying to support someone close to them, some thoughtful words or simply being there and showing that you understand can go a long way.