People have asked me what they can do to help someone who has a mental illness. This list is based largely on my own experience and it will vary from person to person, but I think it can be used as a good starting place if you’ve got a friend or a loved one who is struggling.
This is the single most important thing you can do for something who’s suffering from a mental illness. You don’t always have to talk, you don’t always need to have the answers, and sometimes you won’t even have to listen. All you have to do is care. Be present for us. Be available for us.
OPEN THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION
Let the person who’s suffering know you’re concerned about them and you want to help. Sometimes this might be easier to do when we’re in a neutral or good mood – we might be able to let you know what we need or would like from you better when we’re not already struggling. Let us know if you don’t entirely understand what we’re going through but you’d like to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; sometimes it’s easier to answer questions than it is to come up with everything on our own. And don’t be afraid to make an offer – whether it’s to get together and do something or just hang out and talk, we’re not always going to be actively seeking something out that might really help us.
GIVE US SPACE
This can be a tricky one because it can change so easily. There will be times when the only thing someone suffering from a mental illness wants is to be left alone. Respect that. There will also be times when we want to talk, and there will be times when we just want to be held. Again, don’t be afraid to ask what we want, and don’t take it personally if we say we want to be left alone. Let us know that you’re available if we need you, and a hug or a kiss are never bad.
LEAVE JUDGEMENT, PRESSURE AND GUILT AT THE DOOR
Those of us suffering from mental illness feel these things enough on our own, we don’t need more of it from someone else. The best way you can help is to be open and understanding to what we’re feeling. This isn’t about you and your expectations or hopes for us. It’s about us working through and dealing with our feelings and thoughts. Be supportive of us.
We don’t want to sabotage your plans, the holiday, or our day at work, but sometimes we can’t help it. We don’t control our feelings and we just can’t turn them off. Mental illness doesn’t care where we are or what we are doing, there are going to be times when we’re just not ourselves and we do feel bad about it.
TAKE WHAT WE’RE SAYING SERIOUSLY
When we look at our problems, it’s in terms of how we function within our life, what our quality of life is, or whether or not we’re worthy of life. These are big questions. So if we act like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, it’s because the weight of our world IS on our shoulders and we’re trying to sort it out. We’re trying to figure out what being means for us. This is why we don’t always take a lot of interest in other things – they don’t have that much relevance for us. And distractions might work for a little while, but we know they’re just temporary, and then it’s back to the grind.
PLEASE DON’T TRY TO FIX OUR PROBLEMS, YOU CAN’T
We are processing our own issues and we have to be the ones to figure them out. Even if you tell us what we’re doing to hurt ourselves a hundred times, it’s not going to matter until we work out how to do it for ourselves. I repeatedly go over the same things time and time again with my wife and my therapist – but it’s not until I’ve worked it out for myself and figured out how to apply it to my life in a way that I can make work that I’m going to make progress. This can be a very frustrating aspect of dealing with mental illness for both parties, but it’s a painful truth.
CHECK IN WITH US REPEATEDLY
Realise that what we’re dealing with is an ongoing process with lots of ups and downs, a process that’s probably going to take a lot of time to resolve. Asking how we’re doing and checking in on a regular basis will let us know you care and give us opportunities to ask for help or start some conversation. We’re not always going to need or want anything, but don’t stop asking.
Author Bio – Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted on his Facebook.