How to care for a loved one living with a mental health condition

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New Delhi: Shock, denial, shame: a family experiences a spectrum of emotions when a loved one is diagnosed with a mental disorder. However, in a country where nearly 15% of adults need active interventions for mental health issues, the institution of family must enable people to get timely treatment, instead of discouraging them from the same. Mental illness can be a lonely and difficult journey, but with the support of their loved ones, persons with these illnesses can take the first steps towards leading functional and fulfilled lives.

Here’s how you can support a loved one who may have a mental health condition:

Figure out if something’s wrong

People with mental health disorders often hide their symptoms from their families. Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • sudden drops in energy, focus or productivity,
  • unexplained mood swings,
  • lack of interest in once pleasurable activities,
  • alcohol/drug addiction, or
  • Talking about or attempting self-harm/suicide.

Other contextual factors also matter: a recent trauma (e.g. job loss, failure in an examination) or genetic factors (many disorders are inherited) might increase the risks of a person developing a mental disorder.

Reach out kindly

Broach the topic sensitively and let the person know that you’re there to support them. Normalising open conversations about mental health is critical, says Champion of Wellbeing Dr Marcus Ranney. “In the same way as people readily approach me to discuss their physical ailments, I encourage people to embrace the same sentiment towards talking about their mental health too,” says Dr Marcus.

“The more we normalise these conversations in our homes and teams, the better it will be for all of us. At some point, most of us will face some challenge to our mental well-being, so it’s in society’s best interest to finally remove the stigma around these conditions.” Dr. Marcus Ranney

Enable them to seek help

It is important to respect the wishes of the person living with the illness. Encourage them to seek help, starting with a formal diagnosis (but don’t pressurise them). Talk to them about the treatment channels, what the process would entail, and how it would be beneficial for their condition. Similarly, if the person wants to explore a certain course of treatment, don’t discourage them. Let them, and the experts, decide.

Enlist the family’s support

Finally, ensure that the person’s immediate family is aware of their condition, its implications and the expected course of treatment. It is likely that family schedules will have to be adjusted and financial plans redrawn to accommodate the person’s treatment. Ensure that family members understand and accept these facts, and do their respective part to aid the recovery of the person.

The family is a person’s ‘first line of defence’ for any health crisis: physical or mental. That’s why having their loved ones on their side improves the chances of people with mental disorders returning to a healthy, happy and productive life.

Written in partnership with Champion of Well-being, Dr Marcus Ranney. Times Bridge is the global investment and partnership arm of the Times Group. A unique position as a venture capital, consulting and operations partner to the world’s purposeful companies providing partners with a decisive edge to bring their mission to the world’s largest, open consumer market. Some of its portfolio brands: Business Insider, Advertisement and Media Insider, and The Weather Channel, Headspace, MUBI, Smule, Wattpad, StackOverflow and more.

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