It can be very hard for a mentally ill person to reach out and ask for help, especially when they are hurting the most, so it is very important to care for them in a loving way. In many cases, I have felt most alone and more hurt than I was before when the person I reach out to does not answer in a way that is supportive and caring. Due to this, I thought it would be helpful to discuss things to say/do and things not to say/do when your loved ones are hurting.
What to do:
- Be there for them: If you do not live close to them, call them and listen to them, let them cry to you over the phone and let it all out. If you do live close to them, offer them your shoulder to cry one, listen to them, maybe even bring them something you think would cheer them up (i.e. their favorite food, their favorite movie on DVD, a new book, flowers, a bath bomb, candles, etc.). Even just sitting next to them doing nothing together can be helpful.
- LISTEN: I know I said this in the last bullet, but it is important that it needs to be said twice. Let them talk for as long as they want to, do not interrupt them. Do not judge. Do not be distracted (meaning put your phone down and on silent). Try not to bring up your own life, this time should be focused completely on them.
- Offer to help them with daily tasks: It can be very hard for someone who is hurting to complete the most simple tasks. Rather it be doing their dishes, taking the trash out, doing their laundry, helping take care of their pets or kids, going grocery shopping for them, or making them food, it can help take some of the load off of them.
- Be patient: It can be hard for some people to open up, if they are not eager to share their feelings with you, do not push them. They may be willing to open up with some time and patience.
What NOT to do:
- Avoid certain phrases: Some phrases can be very hurtful and upsetting and you may not even realize it. Examples: "you shouldn't be sad", "it's not that big of a deal", "you have so much to be happy for", "just cheer up", "it could be worse", "other people have problems too", "let it go".
- Don't belittle their feelings: Sometimes we think it is helpful to bring up similar situations to others to show compassion, but this can feel like we are belittling their experience or pain. If you think sharing a similar situation could be helpful, just make sure to let them understand their feelings are still completely valid.
- Don't shame: When people are hurting, it may be hard for them to be the same kind of friend they usually are to you, it may be hard for them to even get out of bed that day, or put on clothes. When this happens, make sure you are not making them feel bad about it. Don't say anything about the bags under their eyes, or the baggy clothes they may be wearing for the third day in a row, or the un-brushed, dirty hair.
I'm sure there are other do's and don'ts that I am not thinking of right now, but I will be adding to this list if there are any others I may have missed or if you have some suggestions, please comment them. I hope this blog post can help people better understand how to be the best friend you can be to your loved ones when they are in pain.