17 ways to support family & friends living with mental illness during covid19, Part I

Today I thought I would go over a list of things you can do for your loved ones who struggle with mental illness and what was helpful for me. We are in unprecedented times because of covid19 and we are all vulnerable to mental health issues. For those of us who already live with mental illness, this time can be extremely challenging and at times detrimental.

As a family or friend of the person with mental illness, please note, different people can handle different things so do as much as you are comfortable with! Also, depression and anxiety show up in different ways for different people.

I’ve battled major depression, anxiety and OCD for 20 years so I have many years of many people helping me along the way. I’ll try to start with what was helpful to 15 year old me. However, these are all good no matter the age! I’ve broken this post into two as I personally find long articles and blog posts difficult to finish, pre-covid and even more so now.

1. Start by asking, “How are you?” if they give you an answer such as “fine,” try to ask again. “But how are you really?” This shows you’re not interested in some socially normalized answer to that question. Leave space for them to answer and just listen. Leave that empty space hanging and let them fill it. Also, you do not need to “solve” their problem! Don’t forget that.

2. Ask them to wash their face with cool water if they are crying or sound like they are very emotionally riled up. If it is in person, walk with them to the washroom. I’ve definitely had some serious cries in my life. Bawling to the point of it’s hard to catch my breath. My sister would often tell me this before I even said anything. “Go wash your face.” I swear over time her reaction went from a nice one to a “you know what to do first” tone.

3. If you are okay with it, hold them while they cry. This is a bit much and depends on if you are comfortable and they are okay with it as well. Sometimes you just need an embrace! My sister would sometimes hold me while I cried. This is obviously only possible if you live together. You should probably both wear a mask to be safe.

4. Take them for a walk (if you can practice physical distancing or you’re living with the person already). I loved when my sister did this and it helped me calm down so quickly.

  • Sidenote: I would like to point out how difficult this must have been for my sister. She was only 20! And was a big part of me making it to 23. I tell you this because I urge you to please never give up on your loved one who lives with mental illness (if you can do that without compromising your own mental health) you might just be the reason they are getting through this.

5. Do activities together – eat together via video chat, watch a show together, do yoga together etc. Do an activity that you did as kids together or when you first met. I ate breakfast with my brother on video chat, just him and I. It felt like it did when we would eat at the table together growing up. It was oddly comforting.

6. Speaking of food! Cook for them and drop it off. People don’t realize how exhausting having a mental illness is, it is such a strain on your mind AND body. Food eliminates having to worry about cooking that day! (desserts are welcomed because, they are desserts).

7. Be a wake up call. Many people who live with depression have a hard time getting up in the morning. This was something I majorly struggled with after my breakup, I would sleep and stay in bed for over two days only getting up to shower and eat dinner. In our new covid19 world, my niece and nephew video call me every weekday to say good morning and chat for a couple minutes. They also now do themes and give me a weather report. And I get to see them and their parents every day!

  • Schedule another type of daily call, it could be bedtime, lunch time, end of the school or workday. Routine is key to mental health for all of us.
  • With most mental illnesses people struggle with sleep, whether that is too much sleep or too little sleep. Helping with that can be tremendous, I cannot stress this enough.

8. Send a thoughtful care package! Everyone LOVES getting mail and a surprise like this makes you feel extra special. A friend of mine keeps all her birthday cards (wedding cards, happy graduation etc.) and reads them when she needs a boost. I have maybe 3 boxes fulled with cards going back maybe 10 years and this never occurred to me! I think I may try this one soon!

Come back tomorrow for Part II of 17 ways to support family or friends living with mental illness during covid19.

Start by asking, “How are you?”

Read about my book here. Coming this spring!

Read “Why I wrote A Hidden Life” here.

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17 ways to support family or friends living with mental illness during covid19, Part II

“We are in this together,” has been an emotionally provoking statement for a lot of people as we are not all really in this together! Due to many socioeconomic factors we are definitely not experiencing this in the same way. And for those who live with mental illness, I can 110% tell you they are … Continue reading 17 ways to support family or friends living with mental illness during covid19, Part II

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