Know someone with a mental illness?
A closer look at how you can support them
Tips for supporting a friend with a mental illness
Someone who is experiencing mental health difficulties is usually able to live a successful and satisfying life, particularly if they are receiving help to manage the illness. However, it’s not uncommon for a stigma to be attached to someone who is having a hard time.
A person with a mental illness might feel embarrassed or like an outcast because of these harmful stigmas. Often people with mental health difficulties worry that others will tease them or treat them differently. Here are some tips for making your friend feel more comfortable:
Avoid being judgmental. Be aware of the stigma associated with mental health difficulties, but keep an open mind. This might help create a safe environment for your friend, which can allow them to relax and enjoy life.
Talk about what your friend finds helpful. Make sure that the conversations you have about your friend’s illness are easy and open. Try asking about what helps your friend get through the tough times. By talking openly, you’re letting your friend know that you love and support them.
Respect your friend’s limits. There might be times when your friend says that they aren’t able to hang out because of the illness. It’s important that you respect this and don’t put extra pressure on your friend. Often, people who are taking medication can’t drink alcohol or take drugs because it could trigger a harmful reaction. This might make certain social situations hard for your friend. If you know your friend has limitations (for whatever reason), try to be mindful of what activities you invite them to.
Encourage your friend to stick with medication. It’s likely that someone with a long-term mental illness will be on regular medication. Their medication may have side effects that your friend might not like, but medication is often an important part of managing the illness, and your friend might need your support to keep taking it.
If your friend stops using or changes the amount of medication they are taking without permission from a psychiatrist or medical doctor, encourage your friend to make an appointment quickly. Similarly, if your friend is experiencing side effects that weren’t expected and are negatively impacting them, they should contact their psychiatrist or physician immediately.
Ensure that you have contact numbers. Having the contact numbers of people like your friend’s psychiatrist or doctor could be important if you need to help your friend through a crisis, or if your friend is saying or doing things that worry you about their safety.
Getting help for your friend
For those who have a mental health issue, there might be periods of time when things aren’t manageable. Harder times can be triggered if your friend is stressed, or if they have recently experienced a traumatic event, or changed medication. These can trigger the characteristics of the mental illness, which is what most professionals call an “episode.”
If you’re concerned that your friend isn’t behaving normally, it’s important to encourage them to talk to someone trustworthy, like a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. If you think that your friend is likely to hurt themselves or someone else, find help immediately—even if your friend doesn’t want you to. This may even mean accompanying your friend to the nearest emergency room or going with your friend to see a counselor.
If your friend is experiencing a crisis, have them call a crisis line: Lines for Life's Suicide Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or their Youthline (1-877-968-8491). Both are anonymous, free, with staff available 24/7/365. They also offer texting and online chat options if speaking on the phone is too uncomfortable or your friend is otherwise unable to do so. It may also be helpful to talk to the person on the helpline if your friend feels talking to them is too much.
Looking after yourself
Sometimes when you help a friend, you might forget to look after yourself. It’s important to take care of your own needs while you’re helping out your friend. Make sure that you don’t give up things that you enjoy, and if you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed, take some time out and relax. You’re not your friend’s therapist, you’re just their friend. It’s okay to have boundaries with yourself.
Information for this article was provided by:
Mental Health America, “Giving Support to Someone Close to You”
Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com