May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
Whether it's depression, anorexia, or an anxiety disorder, having a mental disorder can be devastating. This is not only true for the person affected by the disease, but also for friends and family who feel utterly helpless and frustrated.
According to Harriet Lefley, Ph.D., a professor at the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the first step is for families to accept and understand that they didn't cause their loved one's disorder and that they can't cure it.
Nevertheless, he emphasized that how a patient is treated by the people around him or her is pivotal in managing or impairing the symptoms of the disease.
Be There And Listen
Deborah Serani, PsyD, a seasoned psychologist and the award-winning author of the book "Living with Depression," struggled with depression herself in her younger years and even attempted to commit suicide.
She said the best thing anyone can do for someone with depression is to simply be there. Being a good listener also helps.
"When I was struggling with my own depression, the most healing moments came when someone I loved simply sat with me while I cried, or wordlessly held my hand, or spoke warmly to me with statements like 'You're so important to me.' 'Tell me what I can do to help you.' 'We're going to find a way to help you to feel better," she said.
Be Careful With Your Choice Of Words
People who are burdened with a mental health problem can be extremely sensitive and easily wounded with words. Serani recommends to avoid giving advice and to strip statements with any hint of judgment or criticism, insensitive remarks (for example, "I think it's all in your head"), or threats ("Snap out of it, or I'm leaving you). She said that doing so only makes the person feel affronted, inadequate, and isolate himself or herself more.
Never Minimize Or Invalidate Their Pain
Any type of mental illness is a serious disease; it's not a personality flaw or weakness that a person can just grow out of.
"OCD is one of the top ten debilitating disorders that causes an unimaginable amount of stress and interference. Saying you have OCD because you love to clean completely invalidates someone's experiences," Noah Berman, Ph.D., an OCD specialist, and a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, explained.
Educate Yourself About Mental Health
By learning more about the mental illness (for instance, its symptoms and triggers), the family can get a perspective on how a loved one must be feeling during certain situations. It gives the family a clue on how to manage symptoms, what treatments and therapies to seek, and the different things they can do to turn their home into a refuge for the person, too.