Five Ways to Support Someone With A Mental Illness

ICYMI, Kate has been offering stellar support to Toby on “This Is Us.”

ICYMI, Kate has been offering stellar support to Toby on “This Is Us.”

There has never been a better time for someone with mental illness to get the treatment she needs to live a healthy and happy life. More people than ever have access to mental health care, and treatment is available for even the most severe illnesses. The stigma that was once a drumbeat is now more like a tapping foot. 

The bad news is that almost no one gets better on her own. When someone is struggling with a mental illness, they need your compassion and support. Here are the best ways to help.

1. Learn About the Symptoms

It can be tricky to tell the difference between going through a rough patch and dealing with a mental disorder. You shouldn’t plan on figuring out the diagnosis, but it’s helpful to be able to understand the symptoms so that you can be specific about what concerns you.

2. Have “The Talk”

When you feel ready to bring up your concerns, pick a time and place where you can have a private conversation. Start by letting them know that you care and want to be supportive. Try not to ask, “Is everything OK?” because that will make it harder for them to open up about what is wrong. Instead, say, “I’m worried about your mental health. How are you feeling?

3. Encourage Them to See a Pro

Even though therapy can be a totally transformative experience, there is still a little stigma attached to seeing a mental health pro. Therapists help people work through their feelings and make positive changes in their lives. Since good friends and family often do that very same thing—but over mimosas and without a co-pay—suggesting that he or she talk to someone else about her problems might make them feel as if you are tired of listening. Reassure them that a therapist can provide what even the closest friend cannot.  

4. Make the Connection to Care Smoother

Make the whole process of reaching out for help less intimidating by sharing your own experiences or suggesting a few not-too-threatening things she might want to talk about for starters. It might help to remind her that one session will take less than an hour of her time. She doesn’t have to commit to anything more than that  unless she wants to.

You can help further by offering to make a list of mental health pros in your area or driving her to the appointment. You might even want to propose a post-therapy trip to their favorite restaurant.

5. Be Patient

Ultimately, someone with a mental illness has to decide for on their own to take medication and do the therapeutic work to manage the symptoms. That can be hard for anyone to do, especially someone who is still learning how to be herself in the world.

There’s a chance that he or she may need to cut back on hours at work or even take a break from school or college. Almost every person I interviewed for my book talked about how embarrassing and disappointing it was to do this, especially as they watched their friends move forward. Try not to fixate on what she should be doing at this point in her life. Allow her some time and space to focus on what she can do to manage her symptoms and take care of her mental and physical health.