Preparing for the Marathon - Supporting a Loved One with a Mental Illness

A. Paul Kurkjian, M.D., Medical Director, MemorialCare Center for Mental Health & Wellness, Community Hospital Long Beach
Live Healthy Topics:
Mental Wellness

For many patients with a mental illness, positive support from family and friends can make all the difference in their recovery process. Although all mental illnesses are different, there are several key points for caregivers when trying to support their loved one.


Understanding their diagnosis is the first step in helping a loved one with mental illness. Comprehending what the illness is, and its effects, will allow caregivers to support their loved one in the way they need to be supported.

Ask their medical provider if they have any resources, such as books or pamphlets that can be shared. Online research can be helpful, but it’s important to read a source with reliable facts. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource to learn about different types of mental health conditions.

Prepare for the Marathon

It’s important that caregivers realize that a mental illness is a marathon, not a race. This means that while medication or therapy may help manage symptoms or emotions, there is no cure for a mental illness. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Do listen and respect their thoughts and feelings.
  • Don’t offer an opinion too much. It’s important that their emotions are felt and not suppressed. A little empathy goes a long way.
  • Do be patient. It is easy to get frustrated when caring for someone with a mental illness. Avoid responding angrily because anger can be easily transferred.
  • Don’t make someone feel shame or guilt for their illness. Avoid phrases such as, “you’re letting me down,” or “you promised me you wouldn’t do that again.”
  • Do encourage them to continue their treatments even if their symptoms have subsided. Help them remember that their treatment is helping them feel better and discontinuing it could make them feel worse.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If a caregiver is feeling overwhelmed or feel like they need advice from someone other than their medical provider, going to a support group can help. Support groups can connect families and caregivers with other caregivers who are going through similar experiences. NAMI offers local support groups for caregivers nationwide.

Instead of guessing what can be done to help a loved one, ask them directly. This gives them a feeling of control and can empower them to share their needs and wishes. Figure out together what the best approach should be.

Ensure the Caregiver is Cared For

The caregiver’s mental and physical health is just as important as their loved ones. The caregiver can take care of their mental health too by keeping their routine as normal as possible. Knowing when to take a break is important to give themselves time to enjoy their hobbies and interests.

If your friend or family member is a danger to themselves or others, call the MemorialCare Center for Mental Health & Wellness at Community Hospital Long Beach at (855) CHLB-4-HELP or (855) 245-2443.