January is a difficult month for many—but can be more so for those suffering from a mental illness. This month, we're paying extra close attention to our loved ones and making sure they feel loved.
Whether your friend is having a hard time handling a life-changing event or you're concerned about shifts in their mood and behaviour, here's what Dr. Abby Hershler, psychiatrist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, says to do:
Pay attention to changes in your loved one's mood and typical behaviours. Before you approach someone who you think may be mentally ill, consult other close friends or family members for perspective—do your takes match?
If so, check in with your friend to see how she's doing and mention you've noticed changes; ask if she needs help or wants to talk. Then, follow up regularly, since she may not have the motivation, energy or self-esteem to reach out. Talk to your friend about a care plan, whereby you and other friends and relatives can be part of a network of support with responsibilities such as finding the right assistance and treatment; attending appointments; keeping track of symptoms; promoting a healthy lifestyle; and encouraging social activity. Importantly, know what's available in terms of help lines and emergency care.
The Canadian Mental Health Association has great information on family and caregiver support.