Mental illness can affect people in many different ways. It can affect your ability to eat, your physical health, and even the way you communicate with other people. In some situations, it can even convince you that you will ruin everything you touch, even though that is not the case. Therefore, you may be curious as to how mental illness affects your relationships with the people around you. And naturally, you might wonder what you can do to prevent any negative effects.
The first thing is to understand your diagnosis so you can look for your unique triggers and symptoms.
One of the most important things that can help is to have support from friends and family (1). They can provide a helping hand or be there just to listen.
Struggling with your mental health is not a guarantee that your relationships are going to fail. Here are some tips on how to maintain relationships while struggling with mental illness:
1. Communicate your feelings in all contexts. When interacting with others, recognize when and what you are feeling. Communicate to the other person how you are feeling and how their actions affect you. It is important that both sides express what they are feeling in order to create an open and safe environment.
2. Know your boundaries and establish them. This applies to both positive and negative situations. Let others know if you are in a good mood around them or feel excited for an upcoming plan. Or if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable, clearly express those feelings to the other person. Also, allow yourself to take breaks and try not to push yourself too hard. Take the time to de-stress in your own ways.
3. Give yourself positive reinforcement. It is important to let your mind know that you are doing well and that you are rooting for yourself. Positive affirmations can boost your confidence and allow you to progress in your relationships (2).
Living with a mental illness can be overwhelming and exhausting, which is why many people that suffer from it tend to isolate themselves from others. But, establishing and maintaining healthy relationships can help someone heal (3). It may be hard to avoid all unhealthy relationships but focusing on people that encourage healthy habits and provide emotional support can go a long way.
If it’s your friend who is struggling with mental illness, you can reach out to that person to provide love and support. You can also let them know what resources are available for helpful guidance. It is important to not push any limits or boundaries on either side. A person struggling with mental illness may be overwhelmed and not want to talk about it right away, so forgive them for a delayed response. In the same way, if someone reaches out to you, you do not have to respond right away or push yourself to socialize. Socializing in the ways with which you are most comfortable can allow you to heal faster, reduce blood pressure, and lower the chance of you relapsing (3).
If you are concerned about your relationships changing, try expressing your needs to your friends so that they know how you want to be cared for. Informing them that you may need time alone, one-on-one time with them, or their physical and emotional support can allow both of you to anticipate behavior and adapt to it (1). Interestingly, talking about your mental health can also establish a sense of comfort internally. It can create a deeper bond with your friend and allows your friend to look out for warning signs as well as help in your self-care.
Establishing boundaries and open lines of communication can improve your relationships and your mental health.
If you or someone you know seems detached, out of touch, anxious, or withdrawn from society, it is important that someone reaches out to them. Just expressing concern or offering support can make a positive difference (4).
Blog written by Sarah Kacmarsky
1. Ali, Shainna. 2019. Maintaining Healthy Friendships with Mental Illness. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2019/Maintaining-Healthy-Friendships-with-Mental-Illness#:~:text=%20Maintaining%20Healthy%20Friendships%20with%20Mental%20Illness%20,one%20time%20or%20another.%20Even%20if...%20More%20
2. Peterson, Tanya J. 2017. Maintaining Relationships when Mental Illness Interferes. HealthyPlace. https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-health-newsletter/maintaining-relationships-when-mental-illness-interferes
3. Canopy Health. 2017. Building Healthy Relationships Can Increase Your Mental Health. Canopy Health. https://www.canopyhealth.com/en/members/articles/building-healthy-relationships-can-increase-your-mental-health.html
4. NAMI. 2020. How to Help a Friend. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Teens-Young-Adults/How-to-Help-a-Friend