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How to support friends and loved ones on their recovery journey

At our blog co-production meeting this week, we considered how important support is and how it helps with our recovery. So here are some thoughts on how you could support someone on their recovery journey with a positive, recovery-focused outlook. If you have any further suggestions on what might be helpful from a supporter please contact us via the details at the end of this post.

The following tips are just suggestions; they may not work for you or the person you are supporting because everyone is different. However, we hope that we can offer some ideas and advice. 

• Listen

We all considered this to be one of the most important things that make us feel supported. When someone is struggling with their health, it is helpful for a supporter to understand that they don’t know exactly what it is like. It can be very frustrating to be told what to do when you are unwell and so a supporter who can acknowledge that they cannot control the situation is appreciated. 


• Be Non-Judgemental

What works for you may not work for someone else. When you are supporting someone in their recovery journey, ask them what their priorities are and how you can help them work towards them.


• Stay positive

Don’t get down-hearted if your help or support is not accepted at the first offer. It can be difficult for someone to accept that they might need some support on their recovery journey, or they might be trying to be more independent. Try not to let your own frustration turn to anger or resentment towards the person you wish to support. This can be very challenging.


• Join a Support Group

Being a supporter can be very challenging at times and so it is important to look after yourself well too. One way to do this is to attend a support group. These are often signposted through mental health charities; GP surgeries and on community notice-boards. You could attend carers’ support groups or attend a support group together with the person you are supporting. You are not alone and meeting people with similar experiences can be beneficial to your personal coping strategy and help the person who you are supporting as well.


• Offer Practical Help 

In our group meeting, we all spoke about how when you are unwell, some support with practical tasks can help a great deal. Instead of saying “how can I help?” – offer a clear suggestion. Such as “Can I take you to your doctor’s appointment?” or “Can I pick up some shopping for you?” 


If the person you are supporting is finding it difficult to remember all the details of their doctor’s appointments, you could offer to attend with them, but be careful not to overtake the discussion. A good way to do this is to sit with the person who you are supporting in advance and plan your involvement. Be careful to represent your loved one’s opinions and not your own. 


• Be Realistic 

If someone has been unwell for a long period of time and are on their own recovery journey, you are not going to be able to fix their problems for them. This can be hard for supporters who don’t want to see their loved one struggling, but a quick fix is not a long-term solution. Likewise, many of us expressed frustration with supporters who offer medical advice beyond their expertise.


• Consider Language and Tone

We are all more than a diagnosis or a health concern. One thing we talked about in the group is how people ask us about ourselves when they know we are on our recovery journey. “HOW IS YOUR [insert diagnosis here]?” is very unlikely to get an honest response. Try to not make health the very first question you ask the person you are supporting, even though you are likely very concerned. You may be one of the few people your loved one sees apart from health professionals. To someone on their recovery journey, it can feel as though all anyone ever asks you about is your health! 


• Have Empathy

Try to gain an understanding of the feelings of the person you are supporting. The recovery journey is not a straight line of continuous improvement so you need to manage your expectations. You are on a journey too.


• Hold Hope

When someone is on their recovery journey, it can feel that they will not get their life to where they want to be, in order that they can lead a life they want to lead. A supporter is invaluable here; you can be the one who holds hope for the person who feels all hope is lost. Setbacks happen to everyone, but you can help support your loved one by remaining hopeful.


• Signposting

Here are some starting points to help you and the person you are supporting find information and support:

Carers Trust – offers support and services to carers

NHS – advice and guidance for mental health

Time To Change - a social movement working to change the way we all think and act about mental health problems

Mind - provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They also campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding

Mental Health Foundation – information on mental health

StepChange – offers free debt advice and support


• Attend a Nottingham Recovery College Course

All supporters of Nottingham Recovery College students are welcome to enrol on a course that will help them with their role of supporter. Please note that the person you are supporting must be under secondary mental health services in Nottinghamshire. The subject matter of the selected course must be selected on the basis that it will help with your role of supporting someone else’s recovery journey. This is a great way to find out about a particular aspect of the recovery journey and to be around a supportive community. Please see our prospectus for information on the courses available if this applies to you, or contact the college for more details on availability and how to enrol.


• Look After Yourself and Set Boundaries

Supporting someone else is not supposed to be at the expense of looking after yourself. Just as you should respect the boundaries of the person you are supporting, you also need to be aware of your own boundaries. Try to ensure you give yourself the time and opportunity to manage your own priorities. This is all easier said than done, so try to set an expectation for the person you are supporting, such as when you are available and what you can help with. A support group can also help you if you are finding this challenging.

Have you found this blog post helpful? We would love to hear from you on our Facebook page or via twitter. Alternatively, please email our blog co-production team at


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