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NAMI in the Gazette: Taking care of ourselves, others

Published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on 12/2/20

For relationship advice during this trying year, we reached out to Katherine Shea, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with Abbe Center for Community Mental Health who also serves as vice president of National Alliance on Mental Illness-Linn County. 

Q. So much of the stress many of us are feeling this year has been caused by feeling less connected to family and friends. What advice do you have to help people build and strengthen their relationships, especially if someone close to you is already dealing with anxiety or depression or another mental illness? 

A. Stay connected with each other, especially if you are concerned about a loved one or a friend. Let them know they are not alone and that you care. Perhaps you can schedule a phone call or virtual interaction to check in and, most importantly, to listen. Validate the way people feel even if you can’t relate or understand. Reinforce the message that it’s OK to not be OK. Encourage family and friends to connect with mental health professionals, support groups, and resources during these challenging times. 

Q. With everyone stressed out in 2020, how can people balance getting what they need from their family and friends while also trying to help those same people handle their stressors?

A. Everyone struggles in different ways. To counter this, honest communication and empathy are necessary. Be open about your emotional needs and encourage others to do the same. In talking and listening to each other, we get to better understand one another. In sharing our feelings and our beliefs, we can connect with each other in a special way. It’s important to share that we are not alone in dealing with mental health challenges. Reinforce the idea that getting help is crucial when someone is stuck or struggling with mental health concerns. The tricky part is finding and maintaining balance in helping others and helping oneself. Take time for selfcare. Prioritize your own mental health. Some helpful, relaxing activities to recharge yourself include watching a favorite TV show, reading a book, connecting with a friend or loved one, or otherwise making time for yourself. Create opportunities to recharge and take a well-deserved break. Try to think outside of your usual activities to have fun.

Q. Are there common mistakes that people make in how we handle our interpersonal relationships? 

A. Oftentimes, setting boundaries with those we care about is difficult. In particular, healthy boundaries are important to promote positive mental health and stable interpersonal relationships. Such boundaries involve defining limits or spaces between you and another person to establish one’s identity. These boundaries may be physical or psychological in nature. They may range from loose to rigid with healthy boundaries varying depending on the relationship. An individual with healthy boundaries has a strong identity and emotional stability. Poor boundaries can lead to unhealthy relationships and have a negative impact on mental health. Sometimes, setting boundaries means knowing when to turn down a request to do something. Being aware of our boundaries and being faithful to setting limits will help people find more fulfillment and feel less stress.

Q. 2020 has been especially difficult for individuals and families already dealing with mental health issues. What is your advice to them and their family and friends?

A. One day at a time, one moment at a time. Give each other grace, give each other space when needed, and love unconditionally. NAMI Linn County can help with our online NAMI Family Support Group, which meets at 6 p.m. the first and third Thursday of the month, and our eight-session NAMI Family-to-Family class, which will meet online at 6 p.m. Wednesdays beginning Jan. 6. To register for the support group or the class, email NAMI Linn County with your name and phone number to Additionally, find a wealth of resources on mental health online at

Q. Final thoughts on how to strengthen our relationships with our family and friends?

A. We all need to be aware of our own mental health. Check in with yourself as you do with others. Create opportunities for lighthearted interactions meant to be fun and create a sense of normalcy. Being grateful for each other and cultivating joy will help strengthen ourselves and each other.

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