Three Ways to Support Loved Ones With Mental Health Issues

Recently, we had a family gathering in San Francisco. It was the first time in years that my relatives from all over the world came together to connect. During this particular trip, one of my relatives mentioned that he was suffering from anxiety. It was something he had dealt with for a long time and had been silent about it.

Mental health is heavily stigmatized in many Asian and Pacific Islander cultures. It is rarely discussed openly and positively. In the United States, 13% of Asian Americans have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and we know that this number is most likely underreported. As a result of the stigmatization, Asian Americans are 3x less likely to seek services. It can be difficult when someone we love tells us that they’re struggling mentally.

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Here are three ways that we can be supportive:  

1.     Believe Them: It takes a tremendous amount of courage for someone we love to tell us about their internal pain and struggle. Some people might have hidden their mental health issues for years and others might be in denial. They might have little support from family or friends, particularly if they grew up in a community where mental health is stigmatized. The best thing we can do is to believe them – even and especially if their experience sounds unreal or unrelatable to us. After all, they’re telling us what they’re going through from their perspective. Understand that they are describing how they’re experiencing pain – oftentimes, it can be different from how we might experience or react to the same situation.

2.     Engage in Active Listening. Sometimes, our loved ones just want to be heard and feel supported by someone who isn’t going to judge them or offer them a quick fix solution. It’s amazing how we can do wonders for others with just a few minutes of active listening (paying full attention, withholding judgment, summarizing, and reflecting back what we’ve heard). Being an active listener encourages the other person to continue talking and feel like they are being supported.

3.     Learn and Offer Resources. Learn about the different types of mental health conditions that are affecting your loved ones. What are the symptoms? What are they experiencing on a day to day basis? What makes living with their mental health condition so challenging? And most importantly, what can we do to support them? There is a wealth of resources out there – here are just a few: NAMI, the American Psychological Association, and the Sukhi Project. There are also affordable therapy services available through the Open Path Collective.

Finally, it’s important throughout this process to take care of ourselves. Asian families almost always have someone they’ve had to adopt and take care of – whether it’s a sibling, a close family friend, or a relative who can’t seem to manage on their own. Caretaking is a huge responsibility. Many of us were taught to put others before ourselves. This can drain us of our energy and quickly puts us on the road to emotional and physical burnout. In order for us to actually take good care of others, we must acknowledge that we have to take care of ourselves first. That might mean setting boundaries, taking time off, healthy eating, etc. Remember: