How can you support a sibling with a mental health issue from your year abroad?

While being on my year abroad, my brother had a mental breakdown and was sectioned under the mental health act. He is still in hospital and although he has not been diagnosed yet the psychiatrists feel that it is some form of bi-polar. After experiencing an extremely 'hyper' period, he is now suffering from severe depression as he is coming to terms with what he has put the family through, and the impact this will have on his future. How can I support both him, and especially my mum who is still struggling to come to terms with it while being so far away?

This question was asked on 20th January 2015 and has been read 2405 times.

  • Nicola Byrom · 8 years ago


    I imagine that it must be hard for you right now because being abroad will create many limits on the amount of support and kind of support that you can provide your family. I'm making an assumption that you can probably still talk to your family or stay in touch via email. If you are finding this difficult the first step is to try to work out some ways of staying in contact with your brother and family that work for everyone. 

    In my own experience there are usually two things that people are looking for in terms of support through times like this. 

    (1) Talking really does help: being able to encourage and engage in conversation about how things are going, is likely to be helpful. This might be talking about difficult conversations about the thoughts and feelings your family are experiencing, or simpler conversations about day to day life. 

    Student Minds has a lot of resources relating to eating disorders - we are still working on building up the same level of resource to support students experiencing other mental health difficulties (getting there!!). I mention this because there is a section in our resources for supporting a friend with an eating disorder that you might find helpful because it covers general listening skills, as well as Motivational Interviewing. The page is called Skills to be Supportive. You may find the sections "Listening and Asking Questions" and "Summarizing and Reflective Listening" particularly helpful. 

    (2) Reassurance that life continues: Mental health difficulties can be all consuming and at the moment your brother probably feels like his life has shrunk so that it is all about his mental health. At times like this it can be really reassuring to know that there are other things going on life, to remember past positive experiences, to hear about current exciting news and to think about future positives. With all your experiences abroad I'm sure you can really help with these - providing entertainment and distraction: you can give your family something else to talk about and think about! This kind of distraction can really lift people's mood! 

    Beyond this, you may find that building your own understanding of Bipolar helps you feel more confident supporting your family. Bipolar UK have lots of information about Biploar and online support services. 

    All the best, 


  • Anna Cartwright · 8 years ago


    As well as the resources provided by Student Minds, there is also a page on the 'Rethink Mental Illness' website providing some information/advice about how you could support a sibling who may be struggling, whilst also looking after your own wellbeing:

    Hope this helps :)


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