be there for… a family member

mother and daughter embracing

Even when our family member knows in their head we love them, it can be difficult to feel it’s true.

empowering the ones we love

It’s hard to see a family member we care about struggling with their mental health. Our support is incredibly helpful to the one we care about, so we need to remind them of our love for them.

Communication is key. It’s important to share your thoughts and observations, but also to allow your family member to express themselves. With our family we may want to jump in and fix the problem, but we must work with our loved one to develop strategies to cope with the situation and find reasonable solutions. We want them to feel empowered.

family communication tips

Listen actively

Active listening helps you avoid making assumptions. Summarizing and re-phrasing what your loved one is saying allows you to ensure you are following correctly and signal that you’re seeking to truly understand what they’re going through.This also provides your loved one the opportunity to clarify if you’re not fully understanding what they’re saying.

Use “I” statements

“I” statements are a critical tool when broaching any delicate topic with a friend. These statements help you express your concern and own your own feelings without seeming judgmental. They encourage conversation and problem-solving. Here are some examples:

You can formulate an “I” statement by describing your feelings in relationship to the changes you’ve noticed and suggesting action steps.

  • I feel [emotion]
  • When [action or behavior]
  • Because [reason you feel the named emotion]
  • I’m wondering if [action step]
  • I feel concerned when you can’t get out of bed because I care about you. I’m wondering if talking to a counselor might help.

Let them speak

The support many family members need and are looking for is simply someone to talk to who will listen. Let your loved one speak freely and share what they want. Don’t interrupt. Ask open-ended questions that require a short answer, rather than “yes” or “no,” to get more information so you can better support them.

Leave plenty of time

Pick a time with flexibility. The conversation may be short, but just in case, make sure neither of you have anywhere to be immediately. You don’t want to have to stop the conversation.

Choose an appropriate time and place

Try to avoid speaking with your loved one when they are dealing with stressful things in the moment. If they are already having a difficult time, engaging in a conversation about your concerns may not be as well received as it would if you wait until a later time. Talking about your concerns can be uncomfortable for both people. Pick a place where you both feel safe, but emphasize your loved one’s comfort. If possible, let them decide where to meet. It should be a place where they feel on equal footing with you. Privacy is essential.

Reinforce your love

Let your family member know you are there to support them. Tell them while you may not entirely understand, you want to help because you care for them. Your loved one may fear you will leave them, so acknowledge your commitment to them.

Don’t try to solve problems, listen and collaborate

It can be difficult not to jump into problem-solving mode, but this often isn’t what your family member wants or needs. Discuss with your loved one how they want to be supported and offer what you can. Listen to their concerns and work collaboratively with them to think of ways to help them through the difficult times. Allow your family member to take ownership of their well-being and guide the process.

The “S” Word: Talking about suicide will not give someone thoughts they did not already have. Rather, it will let your friend know you are there for them and are open for any and all conversation. You then will be a source of support if things become difficult in the future.