How to Help a Friend with Mental Illness

It’s hard to know how to react when a friend tells you they are battling mental illness. Or worse yet, when a friend’s life is falling apart and you don’t know why. Obviously, you want to help, but it’s not always clear how you can help or whether it’s your place to get involved. If you have a friend struggling with a mental illness, here are some things you can do.

Listen. People react in different ways when a friend says they have a mental illness. Some people would rather ignore it and pretend it’s not a problem. Some people want to give advice. The best thing you can do is listen and take them seriously. We all need our friends’ support, and that’s even more true of someone with a mental health issue. Unfortunately, it’s common for people struggling with a mental health issue to isolate themselves, which tends to make it worse. Knowing you’re there and will listen can help them feel less isolated.

Ask questions. This might feel a bit awkward, but if you want to help, you have to understand the situation as well as possible- they wouldn’t have brought it up if they didn’t want to talk about it. Ask what you can do to help. Ask if they’re getting treatment. Ask about whatever you want to know, but ask in an open-ended and supportive way.

Educate yourself. You don’t know what you don’t know. Many of us assume we understand depression or anxiety or addiction, but these conditions are complicated and the reality of living with them may be much different from popular conceptions. Learning as much as you can about the condition will demonstrate your support and you will discover ways you might be able to help.

Reach out. Your friends won’t always tell you when something is wrong. They might just drop off the radar, or suffer a series of reversals they would rather not talk about. It’s hard to know how much you should press them under these circumstances, but you can at least check in on them from time to time. Ask if everything is alright. Give them a chance to talk. Sometimes they feel like they can’t talk about it, but just knowing you’re there for them helps. Be sure to include then in plans you make with other friends. It’s okay if they don’t always show up.

Offer support. Let your friend know you want to help. You might have to be a little proactive in figuring out what that help looks like. You might have to make an appointment with a therapist, drive them to appointments, or go with them to talk to their family.

Take suicide seriously. If your friend talks about harming themselves, don’t assume it’s an idle threat. It’s much better to overreact than underreact. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Stay with your friend as long as necessary or make sure they’re not alone.

Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Valiant Living offers “Expanded Recovery” to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Valiant fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463