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 supporting a friend with 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:

  1. Unusual sadness and being “down.”
  2. Inability to concentrate or having confused thinking
  3. Irrational fears, worries, and feelings of guilt
  4. Extreme mood swings from high to low
  5. Avoiding social activities with friends, family, and co-workers
  6. Extreme exhaustion, lack of energy, and lack of motivation
  7. Problems sleeping either too much or not enough
  8. Breaking from reality with delusions, hallucinations, or paranoia
  9. Inability to cope with daily stress and life problems
  10. Difficulty understanding and relating to people or situations
  11. Substance abuse, i.e., drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food, gambling, etc.
  12. Significant changes in eating habits, overeating, or not eating enough
  13. Problems with intimacy or sudden promiscuity
  14. Uncharacteristic anger, hostility, or even violence
  15. Talking about suicide or suicidal ideation

support a friend

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 someone 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 making 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 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 attending 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 having somebody assisting in the tedious process is comfortable. Be patient with them and allow them to make their own decisions.

support a friend

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 heart is 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 to 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 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 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 are obligated 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. Having mutual friends and family or working in the same office is imperative.

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. Getting so involved in their life is easy that you soon forget about your needs. You can’t love or care for 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.

Take 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 support; they must do the rest.

12. Support a Friend by Loving Them Unconditionally

Above all, your friend must know that your love for them is unconditional. Avoid statements like, “If you value our friendship, you’ll go get help.” Of course, you want them to get assistance with their health problems, but you don’t want it to be at the cost of your loving friendship.

You’re with them on this journey without judgment. You can still love even if you must keep your distance because of substance abuse. As they recover, they’ll never forget the support you gave them.

support a friend

Final Thoughts on How to Support a Friend with Their Mental Health

A friend loves at all times, especially when coping with mental illness. Be the one to hold their hand, listen, and be present. Your friendship can be an invaluable tool they need in the recovery process.