Supporting someone with a mental illness

The vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness can live full and successful lives, especially if they’re getting help and support from professionals and those around them to manage their illness.

friends_hugging courtesy of allspace1 on FlickrSupporting someone with a mental illness can seem pretty daunting and confusing.

There’s still some stigma surrounding mental illness.

Sometimes people don’t know what to say or do to help. People with mental health problems can feel embarrassed, or worry that people will treat them differently.

There are some things you may want to do to help your friend feel more comfortable.

Avoid  judgement

Be aware of the stigma. Keeping an open mind can help to create a comfortable environment for your friend to relax and enjoy themselves without worrying about what people are thinking.

Talk about what they find useful

Make conversations about their mental health difficulties easy and open. Ask them what helps when things are tough.

By talking openly, you let the person know about your love and support for them. You can talk about what you’ve read about their illness and ask how they feel about it.

Respect your friend’s limits

There might be times when your friend says they’re not able to do something because of their illness. Respect this and don’t put extra pressure on them.

Often those taking medication are not able to drink alcohol. This can make certain social situations hard for people.

If you know your friend is unable to drink, so when you do hang out to choose to do something that doesn’t involve alcohol.

Encourage your friend to stay on their medication

It’s likely someone with a long-term mental illness will be on regular medication. This might have side effects, which means they might find it hard and not want to take it.

However, medication is often an important part of managing the illness, and your friend might need your support to stick at it.

If your friend stops using or changes the amount of medication they use without getting the OK from their psychiatrist or doctor, encourage them to make an appointment quickly.

Similarly, if they are experiencing side effects that weren’t expected they should also contact their psychiatrist or doctor.

Ensure that you have phone numbers

Having the phone numbers of people like their psychologist, doctor or psychiatrist is useful for you to help a friend through a crisis. This means you can contact someone who knows your friend should they be in a situation where they are unsafe and need some help.

When to get help for your friend

For those who have a mental health difficulty, there may be periods of time when things are not manageable.

Harder times may be triggered if your friend has been over-stressed or there has been a traumatic event or a change in medication. These things can trigger the characteristics of the mental illness they experience. This is often called an ‘episode’.

If you are concerned your friend is not behaving as they normally would, encourage them to talk to someone they trust like their doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

If you think your friend is likely to hurt themselves or someone else, find some help immediately even if they don’t want you to.

Mind yourself

It can be tough sometimes when you’re worried about a friend and trying to support them. Remember to take care of your own needs too.

Make sure you don’t give up things that you enjoy, and if you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed take some time out and relax.


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