How to Love Someone With a Mental Illness
Living with a mental illness is one of the hardest things a person can go through in life. It can significantly change who they are and how they interact with the world around them. Not to mention, when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness – like depression, addiction, or bipolarism – the condition affects the people they care for, too. This is especially true for long-term or lifelong diagnosis, like schizophrenia or dementia.
As a caring bystander, it’s your job to be there for this person. No matter the diagnosis or how extreme it is, the worst thing you can do is walk away. However, it’s not exactly easy to love someone with a mental illness. You may have to deal with constant disappointments, lies, or even physical pain or heartache of some other form as the person you care for battles their condition. To help you and them get through this together, use the tips below.
Learn to Listen
Multiple people can experience the same mental illness in different ways. It’s never the exact same experience, which makes it hard to understand for those who want to help. As such, the best thing you can do is listen.
Be mindful of what the person chooses to share with you and how they share it. Don’t push them to share more than they’re comfortable with though. Just make the most of what you can infer from being around them and what they tell you. Infer does not mean you have the right to assume. It means pay attention, without jumping to conclusions. But, the more important thing is not to downplay the experience. Mental health is a serious matter that is often much more intense than bystanders realize. When you don’t know what to say or you can’t understand, just be there.
Be Patient and Compassionate
This is a tip you can practice with yourself as well as with the other person. It’s hard not knowing how to help, or trying to help and not being able to. You have to realize you don’t have all the answers and that your love sometimes really is enough.
You also have to realize mental illness isn’t simple. It always has new challenges for the person who is diagnosed, making it more and more complex for them to communicate their needs and overall experience. You have to be patient with them. This is even more true for conditions like addiction, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. An addict may relapse a few times before achieving a full recovery; loving someone with bipolar disorder means you’re along for their ups and downs; knowing a person with schizophrenia means you may have a relationship with some of their personalities, but not all of them.
Still, no matter the condition or how extreme it is, love should be at the center of your relationship with them. Encourage such love with patience and compassion, even when you need it more for yourself than for the other person.
Do What’s Right for Them, Not What’s Easy for You
What if the mental illness of another has you at your wit’s end? Take a step back and reassess the situation. If you love an addict who’s not getting better, it may be time to check them into rehab. If you know someone who’s struggling with an eating disorder, you may want to encourage them to see a doctor.
But, these things have to come from a place of love. While it’s beneficial to have professional support step in, it can hinder your relationship with the person if you push this onto them too hard. They may feel like they’re a burden to you or it could also create some sort of guilt for them, which doesn’t benefit the healing process at all.
Always act with the other person’s wellbeing in mind, so long as your own personal health isn’t affected. It may take a little longer than you’d like for them to reach recovery, or for you both to adjust to a lifelong diagnosis, but, the more love that’s at the center of it all, the better.
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