10 Ways to Support Someone with Mental Health Challenges

Woman looking into the distanceMillions of people with mental health issues lead happy, productive, and extremely normal lives. Many people with mental health conditions never tell their loved ones, and their behavior may be no different from people without mental health conditions. Indeed, more than 25% of Americans receive a mental health diagnosis at least once. But this doesn’t mean that living with a mental health challenge is easy, and friends and family can be frustrated when their attempts at helping fail. If someone you love struggles with mental health challenges, there are many ways you can help.

Learn about Mental Health

Mental health conditions can be confusing, particularly to bystanders. Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s condition. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is an excellent resource for friends and family. You may also be able to find a local support group in which you can learn about better ways to help your loved one cope.

Avoid Stigmatizing Mental Health

Mental health conditions are no different from other health conditions. Your loved one didn’t choose to struggle with mental health issues, and he or she can’t will the condition away. Don’t make someone you love feel ashamed of a mental health challenge. Instead, encourage him or her to talk openly about the issue as you listen without judgment. 

Listen and Learn

People are not disorders or symptoms. They’re unique individuals, and your loved one might not experience all of the symptoms your research tells you he or she will. Don’t just rely on books or Internet articles for information. Listen to your loved one’s lived experiences, and ask about how you can help.   

Assist Your Loved One in Seeking Help

Mental health conditions don’t typically go away on their own, and your loved one deserves excellent help. GoodTherapy.org can help you find a therapist who specializes in your loved one’s specific issue. If the person you love is anxious about seeking help, offer to make the first call for them or even to go with them to the first therapy session. 

Offer Meaningful Support

It’s nice to say you care and want to help, but it’s even better to offer specific, tangible assistance. If your friend is overwhelmed at work, consider picking up the kids from school. If your sibling has trouble focusing on daily tasks, offer to help by mowing the lawn or weeding the garden. When you reduce the stress of everyday life, you make it easier for your loved one to concentrate on recovery. 

Take Symptoms Seriously

Mental health issues can color the way you see the world, and no amount of arguing is going to change your loved one’s perceptions. More importantly, though, mental health symptoms are real symptoms. If your friend feels suicidal, angry, or anxious, don’t tell him or her that life’s not that bad. Listen carefully to your loved one’s emotions and take them seriously. Never try to make a loved one feel guilty about his or her feelings. 

Give Your Loved One Control

Unless your loved one is in imminent danger, trying to force him or her into treatment removes your loved one’s sense of agency and strength. Encourage your loved one to seek treatment, but don’t attempt to force or manipulate him or her into it. Treatment won’t work until a person is truly ready to receive it. 

Offer Unconditional Love

People with mental health conditions frequently worry that they are unlovable, and stereotypes about mental illness can compound this fear. Offer your loved one unconditional love, and reassure him or her that you are and will continue to be available. 

Build Upon Strengths

No matter how much your loved one is struggling, he or she has something to offer the world. Help your friend or family member celebrate small victories. For example, if your spouse experiences depression and has trouble getting out of bed, praise him or her for pushing through a challenging day. You might say, “I know it’s so hard to go to work when you feel so sad, and I just wanted to let you know that I am so proud of you for pushing through.” Make sure your praise is genuine and not patronizing. 

Keep Your Loved One Safe

Your loved one’s life and safety matters more than anything else. If you are worried that a loved one is in imminent danger, contact a suicide hotline or a mental health professional. People who threaten suicide or violence aren’t just seeking attention. They’re people in imminent distress who need and deserve immediate help.

References:

  1. Dickens, Rex. (n.d.). 60 Tips for Helping People Who Have Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia.com. Retrieved from http://www.schizophrenia.com/family/60tip.html
  2. For Friends and Family Members. (n.d.). MentalHealth.gov. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members/index.html
  3. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml

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  • Gordon

    Gordon

    July 12th, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    These are all wonderful ways to help someone overcome that stigma of mental illness that is still so pervasive today.

  • Natalie

    Natalie

    July 14th, 2014 at 7:27 AM

    Many of us are so judgemental about things that we actually know very little about, and why is that? It is because we dont’ fully understand them nor do we understand what they can do to people who have to live with this. Educating yourself and learning more about the issues that some people face is the best way to help them cope with their own issues. There is no need judging and professing that what they are feeling is wrong when you don’t know that much about it. And how is that ever going to help someone? The real message here is to educate yourself about those struggles so that you can then help them get the help that they may need to recover.

  • alice

    alice

    July 14th, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    Be supportive ina way that really means something to the person who you are wanting to help. Cook dinner, offer to babysit, there are tons of things that you can do as a friend to ease their mind a little and relieve a little of their stress from time to time. Anyone can appreciate that sort of help.

  • kady

    kady

    July 15th, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    I have someone in my life who always seems to be suffering from this or that and I admit that I have been the first to brush her off and tell her to just get over it.

    But what if she is really hurting and I am doing even more damage by basically telling her to suck it up and keep moving?

    I am ashamed of that behavior now after reading this and know that I will take her seriously the next time she talks about this becaus eshe could be asking for help in the only way that she knows how and I never take it to heart, but she certainly could be taking my dismissiveness to heart.

  • Starr

    Starr

    July 18th, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    I hate it when people try to take over like they are in charge and leave the patient with no say so in their treatment whatsoever.
    There are times and situations which may warrant this but there are many other times where they deserve to have a voice and they have people in their lives who are totally taking that away.
    Just because they may need a little help doesn’t mean that they can’t still make some decisions for themselves.

  • Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW

    Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW

    July 20th, 2014 at 5:57 AM

    Lovely article.

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