Supporting a friend with mental illness

It’s never easy for someone suffering from mental illness. Not only is it hard to live and deal with, but it can often make the person suffering from it feel alone in their struggle.

Sometimes a person suffering can feel like no one understands them, that they are all alone in their journey. Other times when a person opens up to someone about their struggle with a mental illness, they find that the person they are telling their battles to does not understand.

It does not have to be that way, though. There are a vast majority of ways for someone to make an impact on one’s life who’s struggling with mental illness.

It’s like any illness

If your friend or someone you loved was suffering from the cold or flu you would probably go over and help take care of them. You would swing by the store and grab some medication, maybe a nice tea, and some chicken noodle soup. Just like any other health problem, a person with a mental disorder will need your friendship and support.

Unfortunately, with mental illness, there is no standard on how you will have to be there to help someone. It will come down to you and the person you’re caring for.

Don’t treat them like they’re different

Often times a person suffering from mental illness just wants to feel like a normal human being again. They are probably tired of being treated differently because of their illness. There are plenty of ways to help someone feel normal; playing games, sharing the same interests and hobbies, and just being a friend in general. It is key that you don’t let them feel isolated in their world because of what they are going through.

Recently Ruby Alarcon Gleeson wrote an article for The Mighty where she told her story of how her cousin made a world of difference by treating her like she didn’t have a mental illness. She says that he treated her as a person — none of their interactions had to do with her illness.

If you find that your friend or family member is lacking interest in something that they once enjoyed, reignite it. If it is painting, go paint with them!

If they want to open up, don’t shut them down

If your friend or family member wants to chat about their struggles, be their sounding board. It’s important though that you keep what they’ve told you in confidence. You don’t want to lose their trust. The only exception to this rule is suicide. If they talk about that, it’s time to get professional help.

Sometimes you can feel overwhelmed being an ear for your friend. It’s okay to seek out support for yourself as well while keeping their information confidential.

A person suffering may feel like they’re to blame for their illness, or they could be getting that vibe from others. It’s important that you be as supportive as possible and help them feel the opposite of that. Be understanding of what they’re going through.

Create a positive lifestyle

Keep things positive. That means you might have to help with day to day tasks like banking, housing, eating habits, sleep schedules, and exercise. While you may not need to help with all of these factors it is important that you help keep the person you are helping on a positive track.

That might mean helping meal prep, be a gym buddy, or make sure that the bills are paid on time. It’s not difficult to create a positive impact in someone’s life, just be there to show them the way and make sure things stay on track. Without you, they could be in trouble. Don’t be a crutch though. It’s important to encourage them to be independent.

When do you need to help

Just because someone is suffering from a mental illness doesn’t mean that they will always want your help. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea for you to keep an eye out for them in case you need to. Some red flags to watch for include:

  • If you notice that they lack interest in activities that they used to enjoy doing
  • They are angry or upset for no reason
  • They lack emotion
  • They eat more or less than they used to
  • They are withdrawing socially
  • They’re more anxious than normal

While helping your friend or family member, just remember that patience is important — getting better doesn’t happen overnight.