Relationships | Tips, Tools & Tactics to Support Someone with a Mental Health Issue – Part 2

relationships self-care Aug 24, 2021

Having a structured plan to care for yourself while you’re caring for another is vital. 

Here are 6 tactics to consider as you develop your caregiver plan.

Tactic 1: Set and communicate expectations.

Be honest with yourself about how much time, energy and attention you can give without becoming depleted, and then communicate this with the person for whom you are caring. Clarify what you expect from them. If there are particular expectations of action you would like to see them take, for example, seeking therapeutic help, or adopting a particular healthy behavior, it’s important to know what specific change you’d like to observe/experience and communicate these expectations upfront.

Tactic 2: Practice Self-Care.

At its core self-care is simply the practice of prioritizing your own health and happiness. While practicing self-care is as easy as it is important, it’s often the first thing to fall by the wayside when you’re extremely focused on caring for someone else.

Taking a break from your caregiver responsibilities, spending time with friends, focusing on a favorite pursuit or interest are all options to have ready in the wings.

Start by thinking about the activities that help you feel rejuvenated and joyful and schedule time each week for those activities. Maybe it’s going to the gym, or hiking in nature or playing pool with friends. Putting these on your calendar as a non-negotiable ensures you don’t let your “me time” slip away.

Tactic 3: Communicate your needs and boundaries.

Be acutely aware of your needs, to communicate those needs and to set clear boundaries that honor your needs.

We often don’t recognize when a personal boundary or expectation has been breached until it happens, so we need to stay flexible in order to communicate what action is needed. Remember, you are constantly evolving and what you are able to tolerate one day might be different the next day. Don’t be afraid to revise your stance as needed.

Here are some other examples of what you could say to the individual you’re supporting.

“I want to be there for you when you need me, but I also need some alone time, so on Sundays I’m going to take the afternoon to myself.”

“I want to support you, but I don’t feel equipped to give you advice. I’d like to help you find professional support from someone who has more experience with this issue than I do.”

Tactic 4: Seeking Professional Support for Yourself.

It’s likely that you’re treading in uncharted territory when it comes to supporting someone. Helping someone through a mental health issue is frequently complicated and there’s an enormous about of ambiguity associated with the experience. Seeking professional help for yourself can offer a tremendous amount of relief and practical guidance.

Therapy is a non-judgmental place to vent your frustrations, process your emotions as they arise and learn better tactics for communication. Your therapist may help you boost your skills and offer helpful advice on how to approach the specific challenges you’re dealing with.

Tactic 5: When Support is Refused.

One of the most heartbreaking experiences one can face is when the person you hope to help, refuses your support. Unfortunately, this is very common.

There are a number of reasons why people resist getting professional help, but the social stigma associated with mental health issues is often the biggest barrier to getting better.

Instead of playing the role of the armchair expert, acknowledge your partner is experiencing a challenge and talk through the options for seeking help together. Talk with your partner about the behaviors or symptoms you’ve been observing in them in a non-accusatory way so they understand how their mental health might need outside help. Perhaps you offer to help them find a great therapist, to attend couples therapy sessions together, or stay with them through an introductory session so they don’t feel like they’ve been abandoned to a stranger.

Tactic 6: Intentional Untethering: When Things Don’t Work Out. 

There may come a time when you’ve attempted everything practical to offer support and little or no change has occurred. If there is an unwillingness or inability to improve their mental health challenge, you might need to consider intentional untethering – permanently stepping away from the relationship.

Choosing to leave a relationship with someone experiencing mental illness is a difficult decision and is a very personal choice to make. It’s true that societal norms put pressure on us to “stick it out” in sickness and in health, and you might even feel guilty for wanting to leave, but only you know what is right for you.

Taking the pathway to separate can be considered the ultimate form of self-care, albeit one of the most challenging and difficult decisions to discern. You might need to seek professional help to identify how to undertake this change.

Need more information or support with caring for someone who’s struggling? Do you need support? Contact me to schedule a consultation.


Simon G. Niblock, MA, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in men’s mental health and wellness. He provides tailored psychotherapy services and online programs for men and is the author of the Anxiety Workbook for Men, Evidence-based Exercises to Manage Anxiety, Depression, and Worry.
Important Notice: The content in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace direct professional mental health, medical treatment, or professional care in any way. Seek the support of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider to diagnose and treat any mental health concern directly. Contact 911 or your local emergency services number if you are experiencing a mental health emergency.



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