Supporting a Loved One’s Mental Health From Afar

Apr 23, 2024

Practical strategies for long-distance care. By Raymond Young of the Training Institute.

In today’s interconnected world, physical distance doesn’t have to hinder our ability to support loved ones, especially when they’re struggling with mental health challenges. While it may seem difficult, there are several effective ways to provide meaningful support from afar. Here are some practical strategies to consider:

  1. Prioritize Real-Time Communication: When it comes to supporting someone dealing with mental health challenges, real-time communication is invaluable. Asynchronous communication like texts and emails and social media messaging can unfortunately lead to more disconnection for them. Connecting in real-time with phone calls and video chats helps generate oxytocin to help the person feel connected and safe. A text or an email might be a useful tool at times to give them a little encouragement, but don’t let that be the extent of your contact. Schedule regular phone or video chats to ensure they feel supported.
  2. Plan for Meaningful Conversations: Carve out dedicated time for conversations with your loved one and be fully present during these interactions. Avoid multitasking or squeezing in calls during chores. Setting aside specific times for meaningful conversations demonstrates your commitment to supporting them. If they reach out at inconvenient times, communicate your boundaries compassionately and suggest a better time to connect.
  3. Focus on Strengths and Empowerment: Listen for positives. Validate your loved one’s feelings while highlighting their strengths and possibilities. Acknowledge the steps that they are making and try to identify small steps that can come next. Things might seem impossible when viewed as a larger problem, and it can’t all be solved in one day so celebrate each step along the way. Slowly work away from advising them on every step and encourage their autonomy by involving them more and more in the process of problem-solving and resource gathering.
  4. Acknowledge Your Limits: Recognize that you can’t do it all, and it’s essential to set boundaries to maintain your own well-being. Be honest with yourself and your loved one about what you can and cannot provide. Offer practical support from afar, such as making phone calls or creating lists to lighten their load during challenging times but don’t do too much. It helps a person build confidence in their abilities to do some self-support. Make sure that assisting others does not interfere with your ability to take care of yourself and other responsibilities like family and work. If you can’t take care of yourself, you aren’t going to have anything to give to others.
  5. Know the Resources Available in Their Area: Options vary from state to state and city to city. Encourage them to seek local resources and support when needed. Warmline, NAMI, and 988 operate in every state across the US and are there for the person suffering – empower your loved one to utilize them and seek other options that may be available for their community.
  6. Establish Future Communication Plans: Every interaction should end with a plan for the next conversation. Whether it’s scheduling a specific date and time or simply agreeing on a timeframe, having something “on the calendar” provides hope and continuity. Encourage self-care activities and empower them to take small steps between conversations.

Supporting a loved one’s mental health from a distance requires empathy, communication, and proactive planning. By prioritizing these approaches, you can provide invaluable support even when miles apart. Know that your presence and compassion can make a significant difference in their journey towards wellness. Happy Mental Health Awareness Month.