A support system can help you navigate the ups and downs of life, listening when you need to talk and being there when you just need a shoulder. But sometimes, mental health struggles can have a negative impact on our relationships, which makes communication, empathy, and understanding very important. To understand how to manage the impact that mental health can have on our relationships, we spoke to Registered Social Worker & Psychotherapist, Samantha Mirarchi, to gain insight into how young people can strengthen their relationships with their loved ones––whether as a support system or as someone struggling.
Samantha Mirarchi is a Registered Social Worker & Psychotherapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Social Work degree specializing in Mental Health and Health. In her private practice, Samantha provides therapy services to Millennials & 20-Somethings struggling with anxiety, depression, dating & relationship challenges, life stress, and trauma. She loves being able to help others prioritize their mental health and build the confidence they need to build the life they want and deserve.
Why is a support system so important for supporting positive mental health outcomes?
No one should ever have to face life’s challenges all on their own. Having people you can rely on in your life almost serves as an emotional safety net. Family members, friends, coworkers, peers, your family doctor, a therapist, psychiatrist, support group, and even your companion animal, can all make up your support system. Your personal relationships can help with emotional support, accountability, making important decisions, healthy distraction, and more. Additionally, health and mental health care professionals help guide your treatment, provide you with helpful resources, and offer you a safe space to develop healthy coping strategies and work on the challenges you’re facing.
How can a mental health disorder impact/strain relationships?
This can vary widely based on the nature of the relationship and the symptoms you’re experiencing. For instance, if you’re struggling with depression you might go through periods of time where you completely isolate yourself or have no desire to interact with others. If you’re struggling with anxiety, you might need more reassurance in your relationships or find it difficult to engage in activities that could trigger anxiety i.e. driving, big social gatherings, travel, etc. It may also feel difficult to be fully present in relationships when you’re struggling with your mental health, and can put some pressure on loved ones who are trying to help. Regardless of the challenges you’re facing, it’s important to have compassion for yourself and acknowledge that what you’re going through is not your fault, in addition to recognizing that sometimes the people who are close to you may be impacted.
What can someone struggling with their mental health do to improve their relationships with others when they are dealing with irritability, delusions, anger, psychosis, or other symptoms that can impact interpersonal relationships?
The best action you can take to improve your relationships is to get the help and support you need for yourself. Being able to rely on your support system is so important, but getting help from a professional who is able to help you navigate your treatment is extremely important.
Learn what your triggers are, how to regulate your emotions, and ways to communicate effectively with your loved ones. Let them know what you need from them when you’re experiencing certain emotions or symptoms. For example, when you’re feeling irritable do you need some space? When you’re feeling anxious do you need reassurance? Try to explain how you’ve been feeling to better help your loved ones understand. If you’re seeing a therapist, you can even invite them into a session and have your therapist help you communicate your thoughts and feelings to your loved one.
What can a loved one do to support someone who is struggling with any of the above symptoms?
Be there, listen, don’t judge, and remember that you can be supportive, but it isn’t your job to ‘fix’ how your loved one is feeling. Educate yourself on their diagnosis and encourage them to seek support from a professional if they haven’t already. Check in with your loved one and ask how you can best support them when they’re struggling, everyone is different. If they’re having trouble indicating how you can help, you can give some examples. For instance, ‘Would it help if I took on making dinner for the next little while?’ ‘I know running errands can be overwhelming, would it help if I picked that up for you?’ ‘When you’re upset would it help if I just listened or are you looking for my input?’ Try to be patient and compassionate with your loved one while they learn how to navigate their symptoms.
How can someone supporting a friend, family member, or partner take care of their own mental well being?
Seek out some support for yourself if needed, have healthy boundaries, and make sure you’re practicing self care. Support for yourself might look like seeing your own therapist, joining a support group, or confiding in someone you trust. Also remember that it’s okay (and necessary!) to have boundaries. Recognize when you need to take a step back and focus some of your time and energy on yourself. Remember that if you’re feeling worn down or overwhelmed, you also won’t be able to be the best support for your loved one. Your mental and physical health are just as important.
Family Outreach and Response: toronto.cmha.ca/family-support