Caregivers Mind

Helping Loved Ones With Mental Illness

Written by Anthony Emecheta

The factors that can lead to the degeneration of mental health are enormous. In some cultures, people easily talk about their mental health status and seek help. Sadly, in most Black cultures, there is still some level of stigma associated with mental health conditions.

According to McLean Hospital, only about 25% of Black adults seek mental health treatment compared to 40% of White adults. Therefore, as a member of a Black community, there is a huge chance that your friend or family member will be hesitant to share their mental health condition with you. In that case, how can you reassure them or offer them the much-needed support?

How to support a friend or family member with a mental health condition

When someone is exhibiting signs of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, know that it is not any fault of theirs. In some Black communities, those suffering from mental health issues are often asked to pray about it, based on the belief that mental illness is a sign of weakness—but that is really a missed opportunity for intervention from community leaders.

Supporting a family member or friend with mental health problems can be challenging, especially if they are not cooperative. Remember, within the Black community we tend to take pride in self-reliance and struggle so much that we are expected to endure hardships and expected to endure them alone.  In short, don’t initially expect cooperation from your loved one. However, the first step is usually learning everything you can about the person’s mental health condition—and educating yourself about mental health.

It is almost impossible to help someone suffering from a mental health problem if you don’t understand what it is or the type of mental health condition they may have. The top five mental health conditions that disproportionately affect Black Americans include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder

The type of mental health challenge affecting your loved one will affect the approach you’ll take to support them. Also, learning about mental health will help you to understand what you can and cannot say to a loved one battling a mental health challenge. Below are tips to support a friend or family member facing mental health challenges.

Break the ice with the right questions

Your choice of words matters a lot when talking to a loved one suffering from a mental health challenge. Your choice of words will determine if you will get a response or worsen their condition. When you approach them, express your worry and ask if they want to talk about what they are experiencing. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them.

Having a friend or family member going through a mental health challenge can overwhelm the caregiver with various emotions including fear, guilt, confusion, or grief. However, you must understand that it is not about you but about them. Getting a loved one suffering from mental health issues to talk about their condition is a crucial step toward knowing how to help them.

Foster a sense of community

In most Black communities, children are often trained to be independent, and this mindset follows them through adulthood. Therefore, whatever they may be going through, they often feel like they are facing it alone.

Encourage your loved one facing a mental health challenge to join supportive networks or organizations within the Black community that promote mental health awareness and provide resources and support. Seeing that they are not alone can change how they react to their condition.

In the UK, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association has a list of organizations and networks dedicated to the promotion of mental health among Black adults and People of Color. Similarly, there is the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in the United States.

Help them break the barrier stopping them from seeking professional help

According to a study by KFF, although all races experienced moderate-to-severe symptoms of depression and anxiety in 2019, Black adults (59%) had the highest barrier to accessing mental healthcare compared to White adults (36%).

Due to historical stigma, Black patients may prefer Black therapists—because they feel Black therapists will better understand their experiences. Know if that is the case with your loved one and offer a referral where possible. However, bear in mind that this may be a tough search because of the paucity of Black psychologists. It is estimated that only 2% of psychologists in the United States are Black.

One smart way of finding Black psychologists is to network with a local university that offers Ph.D. programs for mental health practitioners and specifically request someone Black for culturally relevant perspective.

Assure them that you will be there for a long time

Recovery from mental health challenges can take a long time. However, it is easier for the patient to go through the process if they have people who love them around. The fear of going back to loneliness can spike their anxiety and lead to a relapse of whatever they may be facing.

Apart from emotional support, offer physical support with chores like cleaning, shopping, and preparing meals—or any other routine they may find overwhelming during their recovery stage. Taking this load off their shoulders can lessen their anxiety and allow them to focus on healing.

For those who are taking medication, consider getting them an automatic pill dispenser that will remind them to take their medications at the right time and quantity.

Take care of your own mental health and wellbeing

Taking care of someone suffering from a mental health challenge can take a toll on your own mental health. You will be in a better position to support your loved one if you prioritize your mental health. As a bon mot said, “hurting people hurt other people”.

Set boundaries and seek support from others who have gone through a similar situation. Also, make out time to participate in activities that promote relaxation and mental wellbeing. Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can provide valuable resources and mutual support.

Elevate Black Health has useful resources on mental health which you should explore for more tips on dealing with different types of mental health challenges.

Download our One-Month Mood Tracker and present it to your loved one to help manage mental illness in conjunction with a healthcare provider.

For more reading

https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/mental-and-behavioral-health-african-americans

https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/black-mental-health

https://www.samhsa.gov/mental-health/how-to-talk/friends-and-family-members

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21875181

https://amzn.to/3UmhuYC

About the author

Anthony Emecheta

Anthony Emecheta holds a master’s degree in microbiology. He is a passionate educator and particularly an advocate of racial equality. He strongly believes the world will be a better place if we all see ourselves as humans first before anything else.

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