It can be incredibly difficult to watch a loved one who has a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. Mental health conditions make it hard for your loved one to experience life. No matter how much you love the person, your love alone will not help them recover. The person you love will probably need some professional help from a trained therapist. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help! We came up with a video to help parents understand some ways they can help kids who are struggling with mental health conditions.
When you love someone, it’s usually easy to have a good time together. But when someone you love has a mental health condition, it can be hard to figure out what to do.
It’s hard because, to you, the world is the same, but for the person who is hurting, nothing feels good anymore. You want to help, but you can’t figure out what to do. It’s easy to feel hurt by the person who is hurting. This is not fair at all. But you can help make things better.
Here is a metaphor to help explain how you can help.
The person you love is enjoying life and having a great time. There is a small puddle of sadness in her life, but it’s not a big deal. Then, one day, she falls into her puddle of sadness. Her puddle of sadness grows, and now she can’t get out.
A boat comes along to help her. She gets in the boat, and now she’s out of the water. But the puddle has grown into a lake, and the boat keeps her stuck in the middle.
You come along and see your loved one in the middle of the lake. You ask how you can help, but she can’t hear you. You realize that this situation is pretty bad.
But you are enthusiastic and optimistic. You try to jump in and carry her out of the lake. But this is her lake, and you can’t pull her out of it.
You feel confused and frustrated, but you keep trying. You bring her tools to paddle out of the lake, but she can’t reach them. You’re starting to panic a little, but you keep trying. You try more things, but nothing seems to help. You feel stuck and worried.
Then you talk to someone who gives you a good idea. You start to collect materials to build a small dock out into the lake. You build the dock out of patience, acceptance, understanding, empathy, and validation. Then you sit down on the end of the dock, put out your hand, and wait.
When she talks, you listen without trying to fix anything. You encourage her to talk about her feelings. And you stay there even when she can’t answer
When she feels ready, you stay right there. When she feels afraid, you validate her fears. You show her that you can tolerate her fear, and you are not going anywhere.
As she gets closer, you stay right there because you believe she can do this. And then, when she makes it onto the edge of the dock, you stay with her still. You give her empathy and acceptance.
The lake starts to shrink.
You stay there with her.
And then, one day, she feels better! The lake is back to being a little puddle, and she is outside of the puddle. Your support allowed her to find her own way out.
And now she is stronger than ever.
Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Ginny is also a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.