Dealing with mental illness isn’t easy for anyone involved, but having friends and family members who offer support can make all the difference. It can be scary not knowing what the right thing to do or say is and offering support may be challenging at times, so here are some ways to help.
1. Check up on them in an appropriate manner.
You don’t have to call them every hour, but regular texts asking how they’re doing mean a lot. Dealing with mental illnesses can be incredibly lonely, so take the time to remind them that they are loved. There is no harm in sending a text asking them how their day has been during periods of silence, and hopefully will gently remind the recipient that they are not alone.
2. Reassure them that they are not a burden.
One of the things that can often prevent people who struggle with mental illnesses from reaching out can be a fear of burdening their friends or family with their problems. By reassuring them that they are not the burden they think they are, you can open up a line of communication when they need it most.
3. Small gestures go a long way.
Write them a postcard. Bring them ice cream. Make them a playlist. There are so many seemingly little things you can do to show love and appreciation. These small gestures serve as reminders that there are people looking out for them.
4. If they open up to you, let them.
It’s not easy telling someone about your struggles. Let them speak. It’s okay to not always know what to say as long as you listen. There is a time and a place to interject with your own experiences. Don’t try to compare their suffering to your own or someone else’s. You don’t always have to have an answer ready or an anecdote to respond to every problem—simply listening with empathy is important.
5. Positive reinforcement can be extremely helpful.
It can be hard to do anything at all on some days. Cheering them on even for small victories shows that you are on their side. Getting out of bed, eating breakfast, going for a walk—these things aren’t always easy, don’t be afraid to congratulate them.
6. Don’t tell them that “it gets better”. True empathy is so much more reassuring.
We’ve all heard it before, and it never seems to ring true. It can feel especially painful to hear when struggling. Skip this cliché.
7. Give them space if they need it.
It’s important to let them be alone sometimes. If they don’t want to talk, don’t force them to. Let there be moments of silence. Be patient with them. Remind them that you’ll still be there when they’re ready to talk again.
8. Work on rationalising thoughts with them.
One of the most important things I learned in therapy was to slow down and make sense of my thoughts. Recognise the thoughts with them, and then help them to gradually break them down and identify where they came from—and ultimately if they are rational or not.
9. If they are seeking professional help, support them throughout the process.
Help them apply what they learn in therapy. Help them to remember to take their medication. Take time to learn about their illness, ask questions, be an active part of the treatment.
Of course, the help of a licensed mental health professional cannot be replaced. But you can play a major role in supporting your loved ones through whatever they may be currently grappling with, and your love will not go unnoticed.