When a Loved One Faces Mental Health Challenges, Be Sure to Keep Self-Care on Your Priority List

Christina Barker, LCP, NCC, is a licensed professional counselor and completed National Certified Counselor Certification. She serves as the Manager of the Behavioral Health Ambulatory Program for Inova Behavioral Health Services.

Mental health is just as important as physical health is. After decades of dismissing the role of mental wellness in a person’s overall wellbeing, our society is beginning to transition to talking more openly about our mental health struggles.

If you have a family member or loved one facing mental health issues, you understand how all-consuming it can feel – you’re always worrying about them or trying to help them. But no matter what your loved one is going through, caring for your own wellness is crucial. Here are some ways you can be there for your loved one while also seeking your own self-care when you feel overwhelmed or drained.

How to help if your loved one is in crisis

How you respond to your loved one’s mental health concern varies depending on how severe the situation is. If you’re concerned about a loved one hurting themselves or someone else, it’s time to seek an emergency evaluation:

  • Take your loved one to the nearest emergency room.
  • In Virginia, contact your county’s community services board
  • Petition the local magistrate, an independent judicial official who can direct police to take your loved one into custody for evaluation.
  • Call the police, specify that the emergency is a mental health crisis, and ask for an officer who has gone through crisis intervention training (also called a CIT-trained officer) to respond.

How to keep an eye on your loved one if it’s not an emergency

In situations where you’re noticing changes in your loved one that may suggest they need help, such as changes in behavior, appearance, or other subtle differences like eating more or less, sleeping more or less, or not taking care of themselves as they once did, try talking with your loved one. Here are some tips to guide the conversation:

  • Approach the issue from a place of nonjudgmental love and support.
  • Tell your loved one that you’ve been noticing changes.
  • Assure them that you’re here for them and can help if they want.
  • Ask your loved one what would be helpful. They know better than anyone what might help.
  • Check NAMI Virginia for ideas to help you support your loved one.
  • Don’t force it (unless it’s an emergency).
  • Be knowledgeable about what psychiatry or therapy resources are available in the community.
  • Help loved one get in touch with their insurance company to find out what services are covered or what community-based options are available.
  • Watch your family member in case their mental health condition deteriorates. Reach out and check in more often.

How to take care of yourself when a loved one has a mental health concern

It’s natural to want to help, but be mindful of your own boundaries as well. These situations are very challenging, and it’s okay to step back and focus on your own mental wellbeing. Here are some self-care ideas:

  • Separate what you can and can’t take responsibility for.
  • Don’t feel guilty if you’re experiencing joy in your own life.
  • Find your peace of mind – whether it’s through faith, mindfulness or another approach – so you have an outlet for your own wellbeing.
  • Go back to basics – make sure you’re meeting your body’s needs for movement, nutrition, hydration and sleep.
  • Be aware of when your loved one’s needs expand past what you’re able to do.
  • Don’t play the therapist role – be the loved one.
  • Do your research – about conditions, types of treatment, medication risks and benefits, etc.
  • Seek your own mental health therapy or treatment –having your own support through this process can be beneficial.

In closing, let’s all keep our eyes and ears open to help one another. Mental health concerns continue to rise, and we want to give everyone the mental health support they deserve.

If you are dealing with feelings of depression, anxiety or chronic stress with your child or adolescent, a mental health professional can help you to develop the tools to help. Sometimes you could need to first speak to your primary care physician and then get a referral to a mental health professional and other times be able to seek out a mental health professional directly.

To learn more about Inova Behavioral Health Services, call 571-623-3500. Learn more about the Inova Inpatient Adolescent Mental Health Unit and the Inova child and adolescent outpatient services at the Inova Kellar Center.

If you do not have a primary care physician, we welcome you to make an appointment with a provider at any of our primary care locations.

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