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5 Ways Families Can Support a Loved One During Mental Health Treatment

1. Educate yourself 

The best thing for family members to do is to educate themselves about their loved one’s mental illness and treatment. Knowledge can provide families practical insight and understanding. Find local educational programs and support groups in your area through NAMI or participate in our Family STEP Program Tuesdays at 6:30 PM.

supportive hug

A strong support network can be a powerful tool in sustaining recovery.

2. Provide empathetic support.  

Just as someone with cancer did not choose to have cancer, your loved one did not choose to have a mental illness. Having a mental illness is not a sign of weakness or selfishness.

Your loved one may have recurring thoughts that he is a burden to his family or unworthy of love. You may not be able to make those thoughts disappear, but you can try to counteract them by reassuring your loved one of your unconditional love and support.

Encourage other family members, friends and mentors to express their support as well. Having a strong support network can be a powerful tool in sustaining recovery.

3. Be patient.

Treatment takes time. Don’t expect big changes in the first few weeks of treatment. Patients often require a week or two to adapt to the treatment program, and prescribed medications require time to begin working.

Show interest in what your loved one is learning but don’t expect a play-by-play recount of each day. Mental health treatment is hard, and your loved one may need space to process new insights and skills independently or with peers. Let your loved one know that you are available and open to talk whenever he or she is ready.

4. Support treatment adherence. 

Encourage your family member to follow the treatment plan. This might mean offering transportation to appointments or gently reminding your loved one to take his or her medication.

If your loved one complains that treatment isn’t working or is a waste of time or money, validate their feelings, but encourage them to stick it out and try to follow the treatment plan.

Avoid offering to be an intermediary between your loved one and their therapist or treatment team. Encourage your loved one to be an advocate for themselves and share their concerns directly with their treatment providers.

walking in the park

Invite your loved one to exercise with you, take a walk in the park, or go to the grocery store together and buy healthy foods.

5. Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle

Encourage a healthy lifestyle and active living. Invite your loved one to exercise with you, take a walk in the park, or go to the grocery store together and buy healthy foods.

If she is working toward sobriety or trying to quit smoking, reinforce her commitment by choosing activities and places for get-togethers that won’t trigger a desire to drink, use or smoke.

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