Mental Health Matters: Supporting loved ones battling mental illness

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(ABC 6 News) – If someone you know and love is struggling with mental health, it can be scary. You may worry that you might say the wrong thing.

If you want to help and support someone, you may need to seek help for yourself first.

“We’re social creatures, we want relationships, and it’s very important that we provide that support and show unconditional love,” says Josh Jensen with Zumbro Valley Health Center.

For those who don’t have personal experiences with mental health, taking the first step in supporting a loved one can be daunting.

Mental Health Matters Coverage

While you may have a lot of questions, the first thing you should do, is listen.

“When someone talks to us about what’s going on with them in their life, they aren’t always seeking feedback,” says Jensen. “What I have found is seldom do people want feedback, they actually just want someone to hear them out. And that’s one of the easiest things we can do to support someone.”

Nic Kilen learned listening was the best way to support his daughter, who struggles with depression.

“It’s hard,” says Kilen, “especially being the parent, cause I don’t want her to suffer. But all I can do is be there for her.”

But what about when you don’t know or understand what someone is struggling with?

Melissa Lee says, it took four years for her daughter, Ireland, to get diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Melissa describes those years as scary, and wondered how she could help her daughter when neither of them knew what was wrong at the time.

“It was really scary,” Melissa recalls. “On top of it, I was in a marriage where my husband didn’t believe in mental health. Fighting for your child is like pulling teeth.”

“It’s really nice to have a parent who supports you along your mental health journey. Especially if you’re struggling with something,” explained Ireland.

Melissa adds, she couldn’t have done it without support from other parents experiencing similar things.

Now, she encourages people to speak openly about mental health experiences, even creating her own support group in Wabasha County called “Missy’s Mission.”

“Let’s talk about it. Let’s let people know it happens. Let’s not be ashamed of our child because she’s been diagnosed with something. Let’s love our child, and let’s figure out how to get that child in the best spot together. People need to come together and help each other out and not be quiet about it,” says Melissa.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, has a similar resource with their Family Support Groups.

Providing a space for parents, friends, and significant others to feel less alone.

Jennifer Becker, a NAMI Peer Support Program Director, says, “family members really need a place to come where they can share their experiences, and gain hope for the future. “

These support groups are led by peers, like Margaret Mester, who explains, “they feel seen, and heard. Suddenly, they realize they’re not alone. There are so many other families who have been through virtually identical situations or different situations… and they can share what they need to share so they can learn how to better support their loved one, and take care of themselves. It’s very reassuring and very helpful.”

If you’re supporting a loved one struggling with their mental health, remember, it’s okay to ask for help.

“Ask what that person needs from us, how can we support them, is it just listening? Is it helping them explore resources?” says Jensen. “And regardless of what they want, trying to walk alongside them. Right? That way they don’t feel so alone in their journey.”

Remember if you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 9-8-8. That’s the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, staffed with people who can help 24/7.