How to considerately help a loved one with mental illness.

Asking for help is hard. Many of us avoid it because it makes us feel vulnerable. The fear of seeming weak or incompetent often prompts us to go it alone, which, unfortunately, just makes everything even more difficult. This is especially true for people suffering from mental illness. While the topic is becoming more prevalent in our society, stigma still surrounds issues like addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. This stigma prevents people from openly discussing their condition and getting the help they need. Keeping this in mind, you might be in a position to relieve someone you know of this burden and help them onto the path of recovery.

Recognizing the symptoms

Before you assume someone you care about has a mental illness, do as much research as you can. Look up any uncharacteristic changes in behavior or mood you’ve noticed and the potential causes. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs to watch out for include extreme mood swings, appetite changes, and fatigue. Mental illness is very complex and symptoms vary based on any number of variables, though, so it’s wise to supplement the information you find by speaking to a trained professional.

Broaching the subject

As previously mentioned, mental health is a very delicate topic. Here are a few things you can do to ensure the conversation goes smoothly.

  • Carve out plenty of time to talk. This could potentially be a lengthy dialogue, and the last thing you want to do is interrupt your loved one or make them feel like you don’t have time to listen to them.
  • Be in a receptive mood. Chances are you’ll both end up revealing surprising information to one another during this talk. Be ready to listen and absorb what they have to say without passing judgement.
  • Refrain from diagnoses. Don’t psychoanalyze your loved one—even if you’re a trained mental health professional. This conversation is about providing emotional support, not medical treatment.
  • Stick to being helpful. Similarly, only say things that would be helpful to your loved one. Talking about their mental health might make them uncomfortable, so it’s important you demonstrate that they can trust you. If you’re not sure what to say the US Department of Health and Human Services has a great list of positive ways to discuss mental health.
  • Be patient. It’s possible that your loved one may not be ready to talk about this at all, which is completely fine. Let them know you’ll be there for them when the time is right, and continue to check on them periodically.

Providing ongoing support

This isn’t a one-time conversation. You’ll have to stand by your loved one every step of the way to improve their chances of getting better. But you don’t have to do it alone. There are numerous resources that you can refer them to, both on- and offline. We encourage our users to share their LifeSpeak access with friends and family so everyone can benefit from our extensive content on mental health. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, find out more about us here.


Also published on Medium.