Responding to Loved Ones with Mental Illness

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Loved ones with mental illness

Responding appropriately to a loved one who suffers from mental illness can be trying at times. It can be difficult to be empathetic towards others when you don’t fully understand the struggles that they are facing, but giving the appropriate love and support is critically important when dealing with others. Knowing the correct way to respond is crucial to providing a loving, trusting environment for your loved one.

Negative Reactions


Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where one person dismisses the other person’s feelings as ridiculous, crazy, or stupid. This reaction is especially dangerous because it is actually considered a form of emotional abuse and can happen subconsciously. Gaslighting is characterized by the denial of facts or feelings of another person, which can make the victim question the reality of the situation at hand. Remember that everyone is entitled to their own perception of events and the world around them – nobody has the right to tell somebody that their perception of reality is false.


At some point in time, we have all had somebody say to us, “oh, it’s not as bad as you make it out to be” or “you’re upset over that? It’s not that bad.” Minimizing a person’s feelings will only make them isolate from you. If this person is coming to you to discuss their problems, they trust you. Minimizing situations can be seen as cold hearted or distant. Doing this may also decrease the likelihood that this person will seek help from you in the future.

Play Devil’s Advocate

A devil’s advocate is a term for a person who takes the side of an opposite point of view, simply for the sake of debate. The idea to remember in these situations, is that the issue in discussion probably doesn’t affect you, therefore there is no benefit in playing devil’s advocate. In these kinds of debates, it is likely that the victim will become heated and more emotional than they were before the conversation began. As a loving family member or friend, it is your responsibility to respond with compassion and grace, not argumentatively.

Responding Appropriately

Focus on the Positives

Struggling with mental illness can feel overwhelming and hopeless for the person suffering, so use every opportunity you can to instill hope within them. Explain to your loved ones with mental illness that they are still loved and cared for, regardless of the hard times they are facing. Remind them that there are communities, people, and resources that can offer them help and support if they need it.


Instead of minimizing a person’s struggles, try using phrases like “I’m sorry that happened to you” or “I understand why you are upset”. Though you may not fully internalize the emotions that your loved one is feeling, you can console them by giving them a compassionate, sympathetic shoulder to lean on. Being sympathetic opens the door for your loved one to feel comfortable in your presence and gain trust within you,

Re-examine the Situation

It is common for individuals who suffer from mental illness to focus on the bad things that can come from a situation at hand, and it may feel like the end of the world for them. Remind them that this situation doesn’t define who they are as a person, it is merely one challenge that they have faced and it is not permanent. This setback doesn’t make them weak, but it provides them with an opportunity to grow. Show them that their struggles do not define who they are as a person.

Why The Correct Response is so Important

Studies show that among adolescents, 43% of males and 68% if females who suffer from mental illness are victims of some type of emotional abuse in their lifetime. Taking these high numbers into consideration, it is even more important to learn the appropriate way to respond to a loved one suffering from a mental illness so that they have a person whom they can trust to talk to. By instilling hope, being sympathetic, and looking at situations as an opportunity to grow, you can give your loved one a positive environment to be in.

Cassidy Webb is a 24 year old avid writer from South Florida.  She advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.

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