How To Really Support A Loved One With Mental Health Issues, According To An Expert

For years, mental illness has had a stigma around it, which has often pushed people who were struggling away from speaking up. Thankfully, over the years, mental health has become less of a taboo topic, though the stigma still exists in various forms, meaning more people are reaching out to get help. When you know someone who is dealing with mental health issues, it's normal to feel helpless. Oftentimes, it seems like there's nothing you can do to help, no matter how much you want to.


Thankfully, Kalley Hartman, LMFT, the clinical director at Ocean Recovery, knows how to help a loved one who needs your support and offers her advice on how to do just that. Her first piece of advice: "It is important to remember that while you may not be able to 'fix' the situation, there are still ways to show your support and help them through their struggles." Now, let's jump directly into these ways.

Try to understand how they're feeling

One of the most important things you can do for your loved one is empathize with their situation. "Learn as much as you can about mental health so that when they talk about their experiences, you will better understand what they mean and how best to respond," Kalley Hartman states. The last thing you want to do is make them feel ashamed about what they're going through. Remember, your job isn't to judge; it's to listen and support. Let them know their feelings are valid and that you're there whenever they need you.


Mental illness can also greatly affect a person's ability to do everyday tasks, such as running errands or making themselves something to eat. If you have the means to do so, offer your assistance, but be sure you're not stretching yourself too thin. Taking on too much could affect your mental health, so don't put too much pressure on yourself; just do what you can.

Encourage them to seek professional help

Unfortunately, we can only do so much for our loved ones when they're dealing with mental health issues, which is why Kailey Hartman recommends encouraging them to get professional help. "Research shows that having a support system and seeking help from professionals can make a difference in managing mental health issues," she explains. There are several hotlines available to those who need them, and the internet is full of resources they can turn to. All you have to do is gently nudge them in the right direction.


You might feel uncomfortable suggesting they seek professional assistance, which is totally understandable. You don't want to come across like you're pushing their problems onto someone else or that you no longer care. Tell them they aren't a burden but that you feel like a professional could offer more help than you can give. Then, be sure to remind them that they always have a listening ear from you.

Offer your shoulder to cry on

Sometimes, all anyone needs is a shoulder to cry on, so let your loved one know you're that shoulder. "Mental health issues can take a toll on someone's emotional well-being, so it's important to be there to listen and provide comfort," says Kalley Hartman. They might not be interested in talking, and that's okay. Don't push them into discussing anything if they aren't ready. It's up to them to decide if and when they're ready to talk, and if they do, do your best to listen and tell them how much you care.


Remember, being their shoulder to cry on doesn't mean you have to go out and buy them gifts or take them out to fancy dinners; all you need to do is be there. Whether or not you realize it, sometimes having someone around when you're going through it is better than any material item you could ask for.

Make sure they're doing self-care

Self-care is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health, as it helps to manage and reduce stress and anxiety. This is why it's crucial to have a self-care routine you can rely on, especially when dealing with mental illness. If your loved one doesn't have a routine, or they can't bring themselves to do it, it's up to you to give them a boost. The great thing about self-care is that it doesn't have to require a ton of time or money.


"Self-care can involve small things like taking leisurely walks, reading books, or simply having some time alone," Kalley Hartman explains. No matter what form of self-care your person chooses, what's important is that they're actually doing it. If they want to take a walk, offer to go with them! This way, it doesn't seem like you're babysitting, but you can still keep an eye on how they're doing.

Help them reach out to loved ones

"Mental health issues can make someone feel isolated and alone," Kalley Hartman explains, so take the time to help your loved one reach out to their friends and family. They may not have the courage to do it by themselves, but having you by their side could give them the boost they need to call, text, or email. Some people may feel embarrassed or ashamed about their mental illness, so by reaching out to those close to them, they can see what a huge support system they have.


"Doing this will not only help them but will also help you because you will no longer have to be their sole support in this difficult journey," she adds. Again, your mental health matters too, and as much as you may want to help them on your own, it's important to have others they can rely on. Remind them that mental illness isn't something they have to go through alone, and by having an amazing support system, they won't have to.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.