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.
People with mental illness often have irrational thoughts because of their illness, so the others without the illness try to rationalize their thoughts and actions and it just doesn’t make sense to them. It’s difficult for them to understand if they haven’t been through 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 and 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, but really, subconsciously they are just look 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 on when asked. When they are told what to do it often makes them feel a lot worse.
Find out what else you can do
What might be an easy task might be a really hard for someone with a mental illness. 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). 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. It’s important to not stay home all day or in bed all day. A change of scenery can really help. Getting them active can also really help, as exercise helps 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. This is the same with social anxiety. 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. It helps them to feel encouraged and supported.
Don’t treat them differently
Support them by explaining that the illness does not define them or your friendship. If you educate yourself about the illness, you’ll understand that their moods or behaviors are not always rational or intentional and that if they are acting abnormal or different, it is the illness and not them treating you badly. They can’t control their thoughts and behaviors, and the illness does not define them!
Be supportive of their choice for a treatment plan
Sometimes you will need to encourage your friend to seek professional medical 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 an expert, 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!