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How to Look After Your Own Mental Health When Helping Others

We have to care for ourselves to be able to care for others.

Researched, written by Amber & The Team
Updated on February 7, 2024

Sad Caregiver

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Roughly, about 1 in 5 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year in the United States.

Not only is it essential to understand how to help and support someone going through mental illness, but it is also just as important to remember your own self-care.

When you’re looking to assist others, it is crucial to make sure you’re in the right mental headspace to provide support that won’t be detrimental to your own health.

Whether you come from a background in psychology, are enrolled in an online school counseling master program, or are looking for tips to help a friend – here are the best ways to take care of yourself while taking care of others.


What is self-care?


If you don’t know what self-care is, how can you do it?

Self-care is the process of an individual establishing behaviors or a routine to promote their own health, whether they be physical or emotional well-being.

Self-care will look different depending on the individual.

For one person, it might be engaging in activities that can help them relax, like reading or having a spa.

For another person, self-care may look like going for a run, boosting their physical health.

Self-care is a term that encompasses any activities that are done to help preserve and maintain one’s physical, emotional, and mental health.


Understanding your limits


If someone you care about, like a friend or family member, is suffering from a mental health issue, it might at first be hard to understand or know how to help them.

The best way is to ask them how they’re feeling, asking if they’re okay, and listening can make a huge difference – making them feel like they’re heard.

With that being said, when you’re providing support to someone, it’s crucial that their feelings aren’t impacting you negatively.

Have you heard of the saying, you can’t pour from an empty cup? It’s true – if you’re too burnt out when providing mental health support to a friend or family member, it’ll affect yours, and you won’t be able to be there for them, either.

That’s why it is important to understand your own limits, what capacity you can act when it comes to supporting someone with their mental health, and when to direct them to a professional.

Everyone needs time to replenish their own emotional, psychological, and intellectual health.

So, if someone is ever asking for more support than you can give at the current point in time, you can always be open and honest, and redirect them to someone else or professional guidance—so you can improve your mindset and create time for self-care activities.


Ask for help when you need it


When it comes to mental health, everyone needs help – even parents, teachers, and professionals like therapists.

While we typically find emotional support in friends, family, and others close to us, it’s okay to ask for help when you require it.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to those friends or family, or access professional resources.

If you don’t ask for the support you require, the people close to you won’t understand your needs, and it’ll impact your own mental health.

Before making yourself available to other people, it’s essential to ensure that your own emotional state can handle conversations, particularly harder topics such as depression or suicide.


Creating and setting boundaries


When you’re helping someone else with their emotional state or through a challenging situation, it’s essential to create and set boundaries for your own well-being.

Setting boundaries in a friendship or relationship is creating a clear guideline/limit of how you would like to be treated and letting the other party know what is/isn’t okay.

Boundaries are critical for self-care, and ensuring that the emotional needs of the person you’re trying to support don’t come at your own detriment.

Without healthy boundaries and barriers in place, your mental health might be affected, and they could trigger bad memories or cross lines that might hurt you instead.

For example, when it comes to boundaries when you’re supporting a friend or family member, it might be that you do not want to discuss a certain topic in depth.

This could be an event involving somebody or because the topic itself might be triggering for you.

Instead, you tell the person that while you aren’t up for discussing it, you’re happy to help them find professional help for it.


Educating yourself on mental health


If you’re here to learn more ways to help a friend, family member, or another close person in your life with mental health – educating yourself is the best way to start.

There are so many free resources available online if you’re seeking mental health assistance for you or someone else. Mental Health First Aid has a great list on its website, and so does the National Institute of Mental Health.

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