Ways to support a survivor’s mental health

There are lots of things you can do to support a survivor’s mental health.

Set attainable goals

Recovery takes time, and one of the quickest ways to create stress for both you and the survivor is expecting too much after a brain injury. Helping the survivor focus on setting attainable goals for their recovery, assisted by doctors, therapists, and family can make a difference. Depending on where they are in their recovery, these goals will change. By setting both short-term and long-term goals, they’ll be able to better track achievements and feel good about the hard work you both have done.

Offer help

After a brain injury, a survivor may need help doing certain things. Many people have a hard time asking for help – especially if it’s a task they used to be able to complete on their own. As a caregiver, you’re part of a support network. By offering to help with tasks, you’ll minimize their stress.’

Helping with grief
Your friend or family member with the brain injury will be going through their own journey with grief. Their entire life has been changed: they are going to need your support. This can be a challenge if you don’t know what kind of support they need. Often the first step is letting the person know you are there for them.

Some ways you can help someone through their grief include :

  • Acknowledge their grief. Don’t dance around the topic of brain injury as if it didn’t happen to them
  • Listen. They may need to talk about what happened to them and how it’s making them feel. By offering to listen you are telling the person that you are willing to help them process their grief
  • Accept how the person feels. Sometimes people don’t feel comfortable sharing emotions in front of others. Let your friend or family member know that you understand the emotions they’re feeling and that it is okay to express them in front of you
  • Offer to help. In many cases the simple gesture of running errands, cooking dinner, or helping with other tasks will be a tremendous support for the person with a brain injury

Some things to keep in mind about grief include[1]:

  • They may direct some of their anger and emotions onto you (which is normal during grief). While this may hurt, it’s important to remember not to take it personally
  • You may be worried about reaching out or feel like there is nothing you can do or say. But you should still make the offer of support: many times, the person experiencing grief doesn’t know how to ask for it
  • Grief is not the same for everyone. They may be in different stages for different periods of time and grieve differently than you would expect
  • Be on the lookout for symptoms of depression. While it’s a common grief staging, persistent symptoms can be sign that the person needs professional help.

See sources

Join a support group

No one understands or relates to you and the survivor more than people who are in the same position. The brain injury community across Canada has many support groups, often run through centres or brain injury associations. By joining a support group, you not only find a valuable resource for yourself, but you both find opportunities for more social experiences. These support groups are available for caregivers and survivors and can make a big difference when it comes to adjusting to the new normal.

Participate in fun activities

When we do things that make us happy, it has a positive impact on our mental health – and it’s important to have fun. You and a survivor can do something together or have your own special activities. While everyone has different preferences, here are a few possible fun activities:

  • Cooking
  • Crafts
  • New hobbies
  • Physical activity
  • Puzzles
  • Reading
  • Walks
  • Yoga and meditation

Maintain physical health

When we physically feel good, we feel better mentally as well. Both caregivers and survivors can take care of themselves by:

  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Exercising
  • Maintaining regular sleep patterns

It can be difficult to stay motivated to exercise or cook a healthy meal: but you can be each other’s support system.

Create a schedule

When a person has lots of things to do in a day, it can be overwhelming to look at one big list. It can have an effect on their mental health when they feel like they can’t accomplish anything. By helping a survivor make a daily schedule, you will both have a more manageable list of action items and be more likely to complete them.

Encourage them to engage in social activities

It’s important to have social interactions on a regular basis. Engaging in social activities has positive long-term benefits for mental health. Examples of social activities include:

  • Attending a community workshop or class
  • Having regular outings to a coffee shop or restaurant
  • Joining a local club
  • Participating in day trips or events
  • Visiting friends and family members
  • Volunteering

Help them find a therapist

Talking to a therapist is a great way to improve mental health. A person can share their stress or concerns and in return they receive a professional ear and advice. It can be hugely beneficial for both the survivor and for the caregiver to have a therapist they can speak with honestly. Depending on where they live, they may have to pay out of pocket for psychology services. You or the survivor should consult with their insurance provider, any work insurance they have, and look at what is covered by the provincial, territorial or federal government.

If you are First Nations or Métis, there may also be support services available.

Mental health resources

Disclaimer: There is no shortage of web-based online medical diagnostic tools, self-help or support groups, or sites that make unsubstantiated claims around diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Please note these sources may not be evidence-based, regulated or moderated properly and it is encouraged individuals seek advice and recommendations regarding diagnosis, treatment and symptom management from a regulated healthcare professional such as a physician or nurse practitioner. Individuals should be cautioned about sites that make any of the following statements or claims that:

  • The product or service promises a quick fix
  • Sound too good to be true
  • Are dramatic or sweeping and are not supported by reputable medical and scientific organizations.
  • Use of terminology such as “research is currently underway” or “preliminary research results” which indicate there is no current research.
  • The results or recommendations of product or treatment are based on a single or small number of case studies and has not been peer-reviewed by external experts
  • Use of testimonials from celebrities or previous clients/patients that are anecdotal and not evidence-based 

Always proceed with caution and with the advice of your medical team.