Often times, the people in our lives struggle with mental illness and if we haven’t been through it ourselves, we don’t always know how to help them. 1 in 5 people in the U.S experience mental illness. It can be very difficult for friends and family to understand the nature of mental illness if they haven’t experienced it.
Here are some things you can do to support your friend:
Take the time to research their illness
Educate yourself about the illness and what symptoms to expect as well as what possible treatments are available. There are many reliable resources online and in local mental health offices.
Just listen, without judging
This seems obvious, but often times it seems like they are asking for advice. However, they are often just looking to vent and let their emotions out. They just want someone to listen. They want to find comfort in just talking to someone. Listen without judgment and offer your opinions only when asked.
Find out what else you can do
What might be an easy task might be a really hard for someone with a mental health challenge. Offering to help with simple tasks might seem small to you, but might be a big help to them. Another thing you could do, if you really want to know how to help in times of distress, is to take the Youth Mental Health First Aid course (YMHFA) and the same course for adults. It is offered in many places and is a total of 8 hours. You are given a manual and are taught about many kinds of mental illnesses, their symptoms, causes, and how to help that person in times of crisis or if they are having suicidal ideation.
Get them out of the house
Go for a walk or a drive, go out and get something to eat, maybe offer to go get groceries with them. Often times necessary daily tasks can be hard and this will keep them busy and out of the house and will help them do what they need to do. A change of scenery can really help. Getting them active can also really help, as exercise can often help to minimize symptoms.
Be persistently loving
Even if your friend turns down your offers to hang out frequently, don’t stop asking them. Sometimes when in a depressive state, they simply feel like they can’t get together with friends or follow through with plans. Anxiety can have the same effect. Don’t take their refusal personally, and keep including them so they don’t feel forgotten about, even if you feel like they won’t come. Keep checking up on them!
Offer to go to a support group
If they haven’t gone before or if it’s your friend’s first time, offer to go to a support group meeting with them. They might be very anxious about going. Even if they go often, it’s nice to bring a social support sometimes. It can help them to feel encouraged and supported.
Don’t treat them differently
Stigma is still prevalent when it comes to mental illness. It’s important to remember that they are no different and that the label of a diagnosis does not define them. Actions and behaviors are often the result of symptoms, which is important to remember before creating judgment.
Be supportive of their choice for a treatment plan
Sometimes you will need to encourage your friend to seek professional help. This is often times the case if your friend stops taking their medication, or if they are at a point where they are having active suicidal thoughts. However, unless you’re a licensed provider, you shouldn’t judge their treatment plan or try to diagnose. Someone living with the illness may know more about it than you do.
The most important thing to remember is that they are still your friend! The illness tends to mask who they really are. Remember that recovery is possible, and people with mental illness can live happy and productive lives as themselves if they learn how to manage their symptoms. Continue showing your support!