• NAMI Washington County

Q & A With A Mental Health Ally-Support Person

Q. What does it mean to you to be a mental health ally/support person to a friend or relative who lives with a mental health condition or multiple mental health challenges?


A. I am a family member, friend, and colleague to people who live with mental health conditions. I have learned over time that while my life would have its ebbs and flows, the life of my loved ones living with mental health conditions would be like riding a roller coaster. As an ally, I must remain grounded even if sometimes I have to step on the roller coaster with my loved ones. Other times, I am a helpless spectator, providing my support from the bleachers. And when they get off the roller coaster, I am there to extend my loving support and provide them with grounding energies and a sense of safety.

It is like they are weathering the storm of their mental state, and I am standing with my little umbrella (unconditional positive regard, empathy, and acceptance), hoping to save them from the heavy rains of emotions and strong winds of cognitive challenges. All of this is true when I am strong for both of us.



Q. What are some challenges that come with being a support person?


A. The biggest challenge that comes with being a support person is being present despite whatever is happening to you at a personal level. It requires you to rise above your limitations and be present for that loved one in need. To add to that is the concept of boundaries which sometimes becomes subjective. What is a healthy boundary for me to maintain? The answer to this question keeps changing with situations. I honestly do not know the correct answer. Another challenge that I encounter is the feeling of emptiness which gets followed by a phase of intense involvement. Like for instance, if my loved one is in a crisis, and I am supporting them navigate through the intense experience. When normalcy returns, my loved one can recuperate and gets time to heal. But I, on the other hand, must handle other areas of my life that got overlooked in the meantime. At times, life does not spare me the liberty to come to normalcy myself or to decompress.


All I can say from my experience in a support role is that it requires you to be vulnerable. It is helpful to lovingly communicate to your loved ones that you want to understand what they are feeling. Then, trying your best to provide them with a safe space, devoid of any judgment so, that they can express themselves. And let them know how glad you are that they shared a very personal and most likely a scary part of themselves. And finally affirming to them that “I Am here for you, and you are not alone.”


Q. How can we be supported and what kind of support do we need as people who are affected by another’s mental health challenges?


A. There are times when I feel defeated at the hands of my patience, resolve, energy levels, and life in general. Those are at the times when I need to put the oxygen mask on myself before helping a fellow passenger on the flight of life.

During such times I have to remind myself that I cannot keep pouring from an empty cup. And so, I pause and fill it up with some self-care. I have learned that, during such times, it is most constructive to take time out and communicate that to your loved ones in need. It is important to recognize and honor your boundaries in helping the most important people in your life. Even if it is scary to let go of the reins and often leads to feeling guilty. But it is a necessary medicine one needs to take to remain a healthy and strong supporter/care giver.


Also, this is where the role of other family members and friends comes into play. As they are the ones who serve as your proxy to the loved one with the mental health condition. Even though we often feel reluctant to seek help as caregivers. It is pertinent to ask for it. And I have learned with experience that taking that time off facilitates in providing continued and persistent care to the loved one in need.





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