*Guest Post by Arielle Gantt
First of all, thank you for deciding to read this article. As someone who battles with (I battle okay, I don’t “suffer from”) depression and anxiety, it means a lot to me and people like me that you, a friend, family member, partner, loved one, are seeking advice on how to care for someone with a mental illness.
It’s not always easy for either party, but from my experience the following three tips have had a significant impact on my relationship with my partner.
1. Identify triggers and early warning signs of their crisis and/or panic cycle.
Triggers are anything that cause someone to have an intense emotional response. Triggers can be environmental; think loud noises triggering a veteran with PTSD. Triggers can also be interpersonal, such as behaviors or comments. Personally, I’m triggered by criticism and other things related to my childhood trauma. Knowing your loved one’s potential triggers can give you a leg up on being able to care for them right when a trigger occurs.
Early warning signs are behaviors a person exhibits at the beginning of their crisis and/or panic cycle. These warning signs can range from mood swings and agitation, to eating too much or too little or sleeping too much or too little, to difficulty performing daily tasks such as brushing hair and teeth, bathing, etc. My primary early warning sign is irritability. I become unable to control my emotions and lash out. It’s important to know your loved one’s warning signs so that you are able to help get them back to baseline.
The more aware your loved one and you are of their mental illness triggers and early warning signs, the better symptoms will be able to be managed, and the more potential crises can be avoided. It’s important to note that asking and learning about your loved one’s triggers and early warning signs should be done when they are at baseline, meaning that they are not inside their crisis or panic cycle.
2. Ask what they need
Again, this should be done when your loved one is at baseline. There aren’t many things I loathe more than being asked what I need when I’m in the middle of hyperventilating in a full panic attack under my weighted blanket, laying under the bed (yes, seriously, I have been there). When we’re at crisis we don’t know what we want.
Having some predetermined things established before you need them, gives you a “tool kit” of what to do and what to say when your loved one is experiencing early warning signs, triggers, crisis, anxiety, panic attacks, etc. When I’m experiencing anxiety, I like lots of hugs and when my partner makes me laugh. Sometimes I appreciate a hot cup of tea, or something sweet to eat.
When I get stuck in a negative pattern of thought, I’ll let my partner know and she’ll rattle off positive affirmations to me. Work with your loved one to make a list of your own.
3. Remember and deliver what they need when they need it
Remember and deliver. The worst thing you can do is nothing. Your loved one will appreciate your efforts, even if they aren’t perfect or exactly what they need. Over time you’ll find a rhythm and you will become more natural at knowing what to do.
It can be challenging to know what to do, especially if you’re new to supporting a loved one with a mental illness. I hope these 3 tips will open up a healthy dialogue between you and your loved one and that you will be well on your way to helping your loved one manage symptoms.
Do you have another tip for supporting a family member, friend or partner with a mental illness? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
Author Bio: Arielle Gantt is a queer depression and anxiety survivor and advocate. After a mental health crisis in fall 2019, Arielle is currently on a leave of absence from her job and working hard to make a full recovery.