Supporting Family Members with Mental Illness During COVID-19

March 30, 2020 Nicola Spendlove

Two things that I find to be true when supporting family members with mental illness at any time are these: you cannot pour from an empty cup, and oftentimes just being there is the most important thing. Here is how these truths have manifested themselves in our family's life during COVID-19.

Truths About Supporting Mentally Ill Family Members

Mind Yourself First

I support a mentally ill family member with anxiety and depression -- my brother. He is living with my high-risk parents two hours away from me. We obviously can't see each other in person at the moment. I am a healthcare professional and am still working, so my baseline anxiety is high at the moment.

I've spoken before about transactional stress, and now I need to really practice what I preach. I do an hour of meditation or bring my dog for a long walk before making my daily phone call to my family. I cry if I need to, and I debrief about my worries with my partner. This means that when I do call my family, they aren't picking up the phone to a stressed Nicola ranting about a hectic day at work, but to a calm and rational Nicola who has processed the happenings of the day.

My family always comments on how they look forward to hearing from me because I seem so calm. Let me assure you, that is not how I feel all the time at the moment -- but prioritizing my self-care allows me to approach our interactions with a genuine sense of peace. The last thing my brother needs is someone else telling him to be anxious, so I have to look after my own mental health as a priority.

Just Be There

I don't know what to say to support my mentally ill family member or comfort people at the moment. I'm exhausted, I'm anxious, I don't have solid scientific answers -- none of us do. I'm learning that's okay.

It sounds cliche, but knowing a loved one is there and thinking about you can be enough. I text my brother throughout the day to say hi, send silly memes, and tell him I love him if the mood so takes me (although this is often met with eyes rolls -- he is a guy in his early 20s after all).

This communication is helping us both -- social distancing can be lonely, and these interactions are one of the highlights of my day. If you don't know what to say to support a family member with mental illness at a time like this, I would suggest starting with "Hi."

We aren't going to do this support thing perfectly, and beating ourselves up for that gains nothing. Let's just show up.

How are you supporting a family member with mental illness these days? Share your thoughts in the comments.

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2020, March 30). Supporting Family Members with Mental Illness During COVID-19, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Author: Nicola Spendlove

Find Nicola on Facebook and Instagram.

Leave a reply