Supporting Someone with Mental Illness Can Be Overwhelming

September 28, 2020 Nicola Spendlove

Feeling overwhelmed by supporting someone with mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but sometimes we can struggle to admit our true feelings. Here's a little bit about how I felt when my brother was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression.

Don't Deny the Stress of Supporting Someone with Mental Illness

As a healthcare professional, I had supported people with mental illness before my brother received his diagnosis. Because of this, I knew the names of various drugs and their side effects, as well as the most recent diagnostic criteria for depression and anxiety. I also knew a bit about the different therapies that can be useful for those living with mental illness.

I guess on paper it looked like I was well-prepared for my brother's conditions, and the rest of my family just assumed I was okay because of this. In retrospect, I was completely overwhelmed by supporting someone with mental illness, but too proud to say so.

There were days, particularly early on, when my brother's condition and how it affected our family dynamic made me feel as if I was drowning. I learned that when we try to repress our stress, it will come out in other ways. Shortly after my brother's diagnosis, I found myself storming out on people after small disagreements or bursting into tears at the silliest inconvenience. Hitting a wall was inevitable, of course -- I completely broke down after about six months and ended up a shivering mess in the doctor's waiting room.

Admitting to Overwhelmedness

I was put on antianxiety medication and began seeing a therapist, and this was the beginning of a turnaround for me. Putting my hands up and saying, "I can't do this anymore," was ironically the moment when I started to feel that I actually could do this with support.

The overwhelmedness still hits me sometimes, but now I have clear strategies for when it does -- I book a therapy session, contact my doctor about temporary medications, if necessary, and clear out some time in my schedule for a calming activity. Your overwhelmedness strategy will look different to mine, depending on what works for you, but I recommend proactively putting one in place.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I want to say that it's okay if you feel completely overwhelmed by supporting someone with mental illness. It's okay to ask for or accept help from others. It's okay to be angry that you and your loved one are both living a life that you never chose. You are not a bad person for any of this; you are simply a person.

What are your thoughts about being overwhelmed because you're supporting someone with a mental illness? Share in the comments.

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2020, September 28). Supporting Someone with Mental Illness Can Be Overwhelming, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Author: Nicola Spendlove

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