Many of us have found ourselves in a situation where we have come to care for someone immensely only to realize that they are mentally unstable in some way. Perhaps they are bipolar, perhaps they are addicted to alcohol, perhaps they are hyperactive or any number of other unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns. Discovering the extent of their instability is always a blow. We are left thinking, “What do I do with this person? How do I help them? How do I protect myself from them? Where can this relationship possibly go?” Making yourself available to a mentally unhealthy person can be both a trying and a rewarding experience. Doing so will prove impossible without boundaries, patience, understanding and firmness.
When you realize that a person is not living or thinking in a healthy way, it is natural to put distance between yourself and them. This is a basic self-preservation instinct and a well-advised one. The recognition that a boundary has to exist between you and them is essential to your continuing a relationship with them at all. You should never feel obligated to be the pillar holding this person up. It is your job to hold yourself up; no one else. You can support and love a person while keeping a healthy distance from their dysfunction lifestyle.
Some specific methods for supporting a mentally unhealthy person while not becoming mentally unhealthy as well are as follows. Above all, demonstrate and practice the tenants of good mental health in your relationship with them. Communicate to them clearly and then stand behind what you say to them. Make your boundaries clear and enforce them. Offer them love, friendship and support, but never forget that they inherently do not think clearly and may not accept your gifts in a healthy way. Always be prepared to enforce your boundaries. In a moment of crisis or emergency, be prepared to bring medical or mental health professionals into the situation.