Remember that classic song about having a little help from your friends? The beauty of friendship is mutual respect and having each other’s back. One of the most significant challenges can be to support a friend who has a mental illness.
When you’re around family, friends, and co-workers, you learn their habits and ways of thinking. You may notice when something is wrong even before they do. If it’s an issue with mental illness, they may try to hide it as much as possible.
15 Signs You Might See That May Reveal You Should Support a Friend Who Has a Mental Illness
According to an article published by the Mayo Clinic, these are some signs and symptoms for you to recognize:
- Unusual sadness and being “down.”
- Inability to concentrate or having confused thinking
- Irrational fears, worries, and feelings of guilt
- Extreme mood swings from high to low
- Avoiding social activities with friends, family, and co-workers
- Extreme exhaustion, lack of energy, and lack of motivation
- Problems sleeping either too much or not enough
- Breaking from reality with delusions, hallucinations, or paranoia
- Inability to cope with daily stress and life problems
- Difficulty understanding and relating to people or situations
- Substance abuse, i.e., drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food, gambling, etc.
- Significant changes in eating habits, overeating, or not eating enough
- Problems with intimacy or sudden promiscuity
- Uncharacteristic anger, hostility, or even violence
- Talking about suicide or suicidal ideation
12 Ways to Support a Friend Who Has a Mental Illness
Perhaps you’re the person your friend needs the most in their mental illness struggle. You needn’t be a psychoanalyst to be present and make a difference. Here are 12 ways you can support your friend with a mental disorder:
1. Learn More about Mental Illness to Better Support a Friend Who Battles Emotional Issues
Education is critical when you want to support a friend battling mental illness. Try to find online articles and books written by mental health professionals. Sometimes, you can collect first-hand information and inspiration from a person who has overcome mental illness.
Use what you’ve learned as a tool to understand your friend’s situation better. Avoid trying to be an armchair psychologist and spout statistics and diagnoses. It’s a learning curve for both of you, and knowledge is empowerment.
2. Open Your Ears and Your Heart
When being supportive, offering personal examples and “one-upping” is a common mistake. While some relevant self-disclosure can be helpful, it should be used sparingly. Try to avoid this all-to-human reaction and listen to your friend.
For example, don’t flip the conversation over to spotlight your past struggles with mental issues. It’s also not a time to share your extended family’s dirty laundry. Your best option is to listen and open your heart with empathy and compassion.
3. Avoid Negative Stereotypes and Stigmatization
An article published by the American Psychiatric Association says that at least half of Americans with mental illness seek treatment. Sadly, the other half don’t because they fear stigmatization and discrimination. If you want to support a friend who’s struggling with mental issues, be careful what you say.
As you learn more about mental disorders, you’ll discover that they can affect people differently. Discussing the latest movie you saw about a mentally ill person isn’t helpful. Avoid discussing past psychiatric practices or anything that would make your friend feel inferior or helpless.
4. Support a Friend by Taking Their Symptoms Seriously
Perception is reality, especially for those who have symptoms of mental illness. Your friend sees their world through the lenses of their condition, and it’s accurate to them. They need to know that you’re not there to criticize, mock, or cast judgment.
Listen to how they are feeling and be in the moment with them. If their thought processes are skewed, don’t try to correct them. They need you to validate their feelings and be at their side as a loving presence.
5. Offer Specific Support
How often have you told someone who was going through a rough time: “Let me know if you need anything.” The problem is that most people don’t like to feel obligated to you or anyone else, and they won’t mention anything. If you want to support a friend with mental issues, be specific about what you can do for them.
For example, you could volunteer to pick up their kids from school while going to a therapist appointment. Prepare a delicious homemade casserole and take it to their house. Please think of the things they need but are too embarrassed or proud to ask.
6. Finding the Right Help
You can support a friend with a mental disorder by finding the proper help they need. They may feel exhausted, and their thought processes may be slightly disoriented. You can gather sources like clinics and counselors that they may consider or some helpful websites to review.
You can help them make calls or send emails for more information if they want you to. Healthcare and medical insurance can be confusing, so it’s comfortable to have somebody assisting in the tedious process. Be patient with them and allow them to make their own decisions.
7. Don’t Try to Take Over Their Situation
When you support a friend who’s overwhelmed with mental illness, it’s tempting to rush in and take control. Your first instinct when you see them hurting is to be their savior. While your hearts in the right place, taking charge can be more damaging than beneficial.
Don’t start making diagnoses and planning which therapist they’ll visit. Interventions are best left to professionals who know to do them correctly. It’s best that you be a friend in time of need and offer suggestions but remember that you’re not their boss.
8. Help Them Recognize Strengths
The road to recovery is long and takes patience and a willingness to accept help, and there are more options than ever before, such as telehealth. Supporting a friend through mental illness involves milestones that you’ll reach together. Celebrate their strengths and most minor victories and look forward to the next one.
Is your friend battling substance abuse and addiction? An article published by the National Library of Medicine explains that these are classified as mental illnesses. As they take each step toward recovery, celebrate, and show gratitude together.
9. Try to Keep Them Safe
Even when you respect boundaries and give your friends space, there’s a time when you must act for their safety. If they tell you that they will hurt themselves or somebody else, take them seriously. Don’t believe the dangerous myth that suicidal people don’t talk about it, or they’re just vying for attention.
In these cases, you must override your confidentiality and get immediate help. Call 9-1-1 or take your friend to the nearest emergency room. Your friend’s well-being or somebody else’s safety may be at risk, and you have an obligation to them. Even though they might be upset initially, they will thank you in the long run.
10. Mum’s the Word
Another essential way to support a friend through mental illness is to maintain trust. Assure them that anything they tell you will be kept in the strictest confidence. It’s imperative to have mutual friends and family or work in the same office.
Sometimes, mental illness can cause confusion and hallucinations. They may tell you things that they would never want to be repeated. You should keep these secrets unless they tell you that their contemplating suicide or hurting another person.
11. Don’t Lose Yourself When You Decide to Support a Friend
While you’re trying to support a friend struggling with mental issues, burnout is a real threat. It’s easy to get so involved in their life that you soon forget about your needs. You can’t love or take care of anyone else until you first take care of yourself.
Take time to step back from the situation for a bit. Distract yourself with a hobby or spend some time outdoors. Reconnect with your family and other friends and rejuvenate your mind and spirit.
Give yourself a break from technology and boost your positive energy with meditation and visualization. Yoga is an excellent way you can practice mindfulness while getting physically fit. Recording your thoughts and ideas in a journal can also be a welcomed diversion.
You don’t want to get into a place where you’re developing mental illness symptoms or causing codependency. It’s also important to realize that you can’t force people to get help, as it never works unless they’re willing participants. All you can do is love and be supportive, and they must do the rest.