Help for Families Dealing with Anxiety, Depression, Addiction or PTSD

Mental health problems affect entire families not just individuals. Loving someone with mental health problems can be heartbreaking, frustrating, and sometimes exhausting. Here are some guidelines to help you navigate these difficult situations.

Table of Contents

  1. Start the Conversation
  2. Normal Feelings
  3. Things You Can Do for the Individual
  4. Things You Can Do for Someone with Addiction
  5. Things You Can Do for Yourself
  6. The Three C’s
  7. Links and Find Help

When to Start the Conversation

If you are worried about someone who you think may have a mental health problem, you may be wondering when the best time is to speak to them. You may worry that if you mention your concerns too soon, they may become defensive. You may also worry that if you wait too long, the individual will probably suffer more consequences.

It’s never too early to have a conversation. If you have concerns, chances are something is not right. Mention your concerns in a supportive way. You must expect that they will be defensive. They will try to minimize the problem. They may try to make you the problem.

But at least you have begun the conversation. Hopefully the next time it will be a little easier.

If you wait too long, you will speak out of frustration rather than caring. If you wait too long, you will probably resort to name calling, instead of being neutral. If you wait too long, you will probably make demands and use punitive measures, instead of offering positive solutions.

It’s Normal to Have Some Negative Feelings

It’s normal to feel compassion and hope along with frustration and some resentment towards the individual you are trying to help. These feelings can feel scary or seem selfish, but they are perfectly normal. Mental health problems are stressful, even when handled well.

There are three common triggers for strong negative emotions:

  • Working harder than the person you’re trying to help.
  • Trying to set the pace for the individual’s recovery
  • Not focusing enough on yourself and not practicing self-care.

Here are some common feelings:

  • You may feel guilty that you can’t help more.
  • You may wonder if you could have done anything different.
  • You may feel angry that they are not doing everything they can to help themselves.
  • You may feel angry that you both have to go through this.
  • You may wonder if you can love them as much as you did before.
  • You may worry that things will never be same, or that your family will never get back to normal.
  • You may feel exhausted and depressed.

Things You Can Do for the Individual

  • Educate yourself on the problem. Learn about anxiety, depression, addiction, or PTSD.
  • Understand that the individual probably doesn’t want to be treated as if they are broken.
  • Individuals with mental health problems usually withdraw. Even if your loved one doesn’t want to talk, it helps to remind them that you are ready to listen when they will be ready to talk.
  • When the they are ready to open up, make sure you just listen. Nothing kills the moment faster than you trying to offer advice. They just want to talk. Talking will help them process what they are going through. Health professionals have learned to listen far more than to talk.
  • Understand that your loved one’s behaviors such as avoidance and irritability are common in anxiety, depression, addiction, and PTSD. Understand that it’s not about you. It’s about the illness.
  • When you are frustrated, try not to accuse or judge. This will be difficult to do, but avoid name calling. It only worsens the situation. Recognize that this is a scary time for both of you.
  • Try not to be negative. That may only increase their feelings of guilt and push them to further withdraw.
  • Make sure that you both take time to relax and have fun. Recovery is hard work. Without the chance to relax and escape, recovery will feel like a grind, and you will both become exhausted. When individuals are exhausted they are more likely to relapse to old behaviors.
  • Set boundaries that the whole family can agree on. The purpose of boundaries is to improve the health and functioning of the family. Do not use boundaries to punish or shame.
  • Allow the individual time for recovery, such as doctor’s appointments, self-help meetings, recovery homework, time to relax and meditate, and time for fun.
  • Recognize and acknowledge the potential the individual has within them.
  • Behave as you would if your loved one had a serious illness. What would you do if they were diagnosed with heart disease or cancer?

Things You Can Do for Someone with Addiction

Addictions presents some unique problems. Here are a few more guidelines for dealing with addictions specifically.

  • Provide a sober environment that reduces the triggers for using.
  • Do not enable. Do not provide excuses or cover up for the individual.
  • Do not shield the individual from the consequences of their addiction. People are more likely to change if they have suffered enough negative consequences.
  • Do not argue or try to discuss things with someone when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It won’t get you anywhere.
  • If you want to provide financial support, buy the goods and services needed instead of giving the person money that they might use to buy alcohol or drugs.

Relapse Prevention for the Family

Mental health problems are family problems. Understand that your live will change. Things will not go back to the way they were.

The biggest mistake families make is assuming that as the person recovers, the family will be able to return to their old life. You shouldn’t wish for your old life back. Recovery involves creating a new life where it is easier to maintain recovery.

There may have been something in your old life that wasn’t working. For example, maybe the family didn’t focus much on stress management. That doesn’t cause mental health problems, but changing that may help recovery.

This is the silver lining of recovery. If you use recovery properly, it can become a positive influence in your family. Your loved one’s recovery is a chance for all of you to learn healthier coping skills and have a better life than you had before.

Things You Can Do for Yourself

  • Let the individual set the pace. Do not work harder than the person you’re trying to help. This is the most important guideline in family support. It helps you gage how much or how little help you can offer at any time.
  • Working harder than the other person and pushing for faster progress will only exhaust you and could make them resent your efforts.
  • Loving someone with a mental health condition is not always easy. You also need time to recover and take care of yourself.
  • If the individual doesn’t want to do anything right now, you can still be helpful by being an example of balance and self-care.
  • Avoid self-blame. You can’t control another person’s decisions, and you can’t force them to change when they are not ready. Understand that there is only so much you can do.
  • Ask for help. Talk to a professional. Go to a support group. You need as much support as they do.

The Three C’s of Dealing with Someone with a Mental Health Problem

  • You didn't Cause the problem.
  • You can't Control the problem.
  • You can't Cure the problem for them.

Only they can do the real work.

More Mental Health Information …

The book “I Want to Change My Life.” contains more information on how to overcome anxiety, depression, and addiction.


Free Online Mental Health Tests and Tools, to help you decide if there is a problem.

A list of anxiety, depression, and PTSD links to organizations, agencies, self-help groups, and forums.

Links to crisis phonelines, counselors, therapists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals. Find help…

Last Modified: July 12, 2021