How to Help a Loved One Struggling with Mental Health Issues

Strategies for depression, anxiety, stress or anger

Sometimes just being there for your loved one is the best strategy.

Most of the articles I’ve written dealt with how you deal with your own mental health issues like depression, anxiety, anger or stress.  However, I’ve often been asked what someone can do to help their significant other cope with a mental health issue.  The first thing to realize is that you are not alone.  A recent study has shown that 56 million Americans deal with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, anger or stress, every year.  Chances are very good that someone in your own family will suffer from a mental health issue in their lifetime.


Mental health issues can arise from too much stress from certain situations or a series of events.  As is the case with those battling cancer, diabetes and heart diseases, mental health issues often affect a person both physically as well as emotionally.  Depression, anxiety, anger or stress might also be caused by a reaction to environmental stressors, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination thereof.  The good news is that with proper care and treatment, most people are able to manage their symptoms, or recover completely.

Following are some warning signs that your loved one should seek help from a therapist:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance abuse

Another thing to realize is that you are not at fault as to whether their symptoms improve or not.  You’re most likely not a doctor or someone trained to deal with mental health issues.  Even if you were, treating your own family members like they were a client is not advisable.  The best thing you can do is just be there for them as a source of support.  However, you might often find that your support goes unnoticed or even challenged.  Many times, you might be told that they no longer love you, can’t make this work, or it’s all your fault.  Divorce rates see a dramatic spike during this time as couples feud and fail to see that the source of all this tension is due to the mental health issues.  The main thing to understand during this time is to see the mental health issues as an illness that has changed the way your loved one sees, and interprets, the world.  During this time they’ll be frustrated, confused, and overwhelmed due to something that has grown out of their control.  It’s at this time, more than any other, that they have your support, your ear to talk to, your help and your patience.

Now, this is not an excuse for a husband, or any other loved one, to be abusive.  Absolutely not and a person has every right to leave the relationship if abuse were occurring.  At this stage, the amount of therapy, cooperation from the abuser and energy you have to support this relationship might be too much to bear.  If this is something you are experiencing, and you’ve made the decision, I highly urge you to call an agency for assistance, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) and not try to manage this on your own.

Depression or other behavioral disorders should always be looked at as a serious condition that needs immediate behavioral disorder treatment.

If you’re experiencing conflict, or feel as though you are powerless to help, just know that withdrawing from you, friends, work, everything is very normal and especially so for men who are battling depression, anxiety, anger or stress.  One additional thing to realize is that now is not the time to allow drastic decisions to be made.  If symptoms are severe enough, a person’s whole personality can change and the one you are talking to is a shade of their former self.  The goal is to look for ways to get help so that person might regain their former self.

The first step would be to create an open line of communication where the loved one feels as though they can talk to you when they are ready.  Express to them how concerned you are, and constantly ask the question, “How are you?”  Allow them to speak freely and do not place any judgment on their words.  Just the act of talking can be therapeutic and not necessarily what is being said.  Once an open dialogue has been created, bring up the topic of talking to someone else who can help better than you can.  Find a therapist and make the appointment yourself if the person is unable to.  Even drive the person over to the appointment yourself if they are so withdrawn and unable to cope.  Go to therapy together and sit-in on sessions, or schedule time to talk with the counselor to see what you can do to help and understand.  Or, if the person is so averse to getting help, try to create a source of motivation such as pointing out how the family is suffering and they should do it for the kids.  Or, offer that you will do something nice for them if they do the appointment.  If you’re also being threatened with divorce or separation and you believe this is a result of their mental health, you could offer up that you’d grant the divorce only if they get therapy and get on medication.  Another tactic is to talk about the depression, anxiety, anger or stress as a third person.  For example, “The depression is causing this and not you”.  Coming to the realization that the symptoms, or illness, is causing the person to say things they don’t really mean, can help you not take things so personally.  The depression, for example, will tell them that they are no good.  The depression will make them act out and declare they want a divorce.  The depression will make them push everyone out of their lives.  The depression won’t allow them to see reality.  The depression makes them think they’ll never be happy, there’s no way out, there’s no hope.  It’s the depression that is speaking out and not the loved-one.

If you’ve read any of my other articles, you already know to expect this to take quite some time before seeing any significant changes.  How long is highly variable, but expect this to be a long term effort.  Mental health issues are not easily overcome.  Medication may eventually have to play a role.  Therapy might take several months before any insight is gained.  There are many factors that play into how soon one can start managing their symptoms.  For my regular readers, you’ll know that there are several steps one can take to help improve your mental health.  For you the caregiver, I would highly encourage you to take the same steps as helping a loved one.

Through it all, it is imperative that you take care of yourself.  Keep busy and active, have a support network of friends or family, do not neglect yourself in favor of your loved one.  If you have nobody to turn to for support, search out a self-help or support group.  There are several out there for family members who have a loved one battling mental health issues.  These groups can offer an opportunity for you to talk to others who are going through a similar set of experiences.  Understand as well that it is very common for the ailing family member to become the sole focus of the entire family.  From this, others might feel ignored or left out and grow resentful.  It is very important to explain what is going on and to spend what time you can with them.  It might prove helpful to schedule time with others as well as time by yourself to get away.  Even if you can only get away for 30 minutes, take a walk, go for a drive, do some shopping.  If you take a moment to schedule time for yourself, you’ll find yourself able to maintain a proper perspective and have more patience and compassion for helping your loved one. Remember that if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’ll be less able to help others.

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  1. Jason

    Depression is such a horrible disease. I’ve seen how it can tear a whole family apart and people lose their jobs! I think the most important thing to help someone with depression is just be supportive.

    1. David Dich

      I agree Jason. Depression, if gone unchecked, can result in the loss of the family, job, friends and just about everything else. Just the act of trying to be supportive, and trying to get help, can mean the world to someone.

      Thanks for visiting!

  2. Tanya

    Thank you for this article. My fiance suffers so much with this. He pulls far away from who he loves. It hurts

    1. Tracey

      I have recently been dating and fallen in love with someone who has a mental illness. He was in a very bad marriage for 20 years with a woman who used him, he worked 14 hours a day, looked after the kids, and she was sleeping around behind his back. She eventually drained him and he had a nervous breakdown. She finally drained all the money out of their accounts and made off with the lot leaving him homeless. The problem I have is that he goes off on one talking about his marriage as it must still be in his head 12 years on. Yesterday I had to leave as I wasn’t sure if he really loves me due to his mental state. I didn’t hear from him all day or night yesterday so I assume his has now blocked me out of his mind; something he has done with women in the past. We have spent everyday together for the past 3 months and he has told me he loves me and even put his house up for sale as we decided we were going to live toghether, when we slept together & we held each other I could feel he loved me and viceversa as we felt so right together. I am missing him terribly but cannot phone him as i need him to phone me so that I know he loves me. If I phone him I will feel as if we are just back together because I called. Trouble is i am missing him so much. I just hope he realises in his damaged mind that he does love me, do you think this is possible? He was taking medication for anxiety and depression but stopped as he felt better when we fell in love from the natural high that being in love creates. Plus I didn’t want to be in love with someone who was medication; how do you know the emotions they feel are genuine and not being experienced due to the meds.

      1. David Dich

        The medication a person takes does not alter their personality in any way. It reduces, or eliminates, their symptoms to a point where their quality of life is improved.

        You also mentioned that once he felt better that he stopped taking his meds. This is quite common actually and never a good idea. Once someone starts to feel better they mistakenly think that they’re cured and no longer require medication. A few months later their symptoms return and they’re right back in the same situation where they started. NEVER stop taking med’s without the advice of your doctor. There can be serious side effects with certain medications as is the case with SSRI’s.

        I wish you luck on your relationship!

  3. David Dich

    A quote I thought was relevant to the article:

    “You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” -Sam Keen

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