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How to Support Someone with Mental Illness

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA, NCC

The quotation, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” carries more truth than most of us may comprehend. 1 in every 4 people will experience mental health issues over the course of their lifetime, which begs the question: how many people are then impacted peripherally? With spouses, children, parents, friends, coworkers and colleagues all playing a vital role in a person’s life, it is important to know how to provide support to a person who is navigating a mental health diagnosis. 

Sometimes the topic of mental health can feel uncomfortable to broach, especially if you yourself have never dealt with mental illness. That being said, talking openly about mental health can be an important opportunity to provide support, guidance, and even information. By doing so, you can be an invaluable part of their recovery process.

1. Listen
If a friend or family member is exhibiting signs of mental illness, some of which may include withdrawal or social isolation, anger outbursts, diminished appetite, or crying spells, consider lending your support by offering a listening ear. When we listen to understand rather than to respond, we cultivate a safe environment wherein our loved ones can talk freely about their experience. Listening is a powerful tool that can sometimes be overlooked.

2. Offer to help find support and resources
Assisting a friend or family member in their search for support can be incredibly helpful. Finding the right resources can feel daunting, especially when we are not feeling our best. Offering to help with the process of finding a therapist, self-help books, or any other useful tools to better them during a difficult time will not only encourage them to follow through but also show them that you truly care about their well-being.

3. Do your research!
Taking the time to learn about mental health issues and resources on your own can help you better understand and ultimately connect with your loved one. While this may be your first experience navigating a mental health issue, it likely will not be your last. Use your new-found knowledge to continue to life up and empower others who may be struggling.

4. Offer to help with chores or tasks
When someone is in the midst of a depressive episode or a panic attack, accomplishing even the simplest of tasks may seem impossible. When offering to bring dinner over, pick the kids up from school, or even help with household chores, you are then giving them back that time to focus solely on themselves and their emotional needs. You may also be sparing them from unrelenting guilt, which can also be a pervasive symptom of mental illness.

5. Include them
Depression can lead someone to withdraw or isolate themselves. It is often difficult to find both the energy and the motivation to engage with the outside world. One of the most effective ways to counteract depressive symptoms, however, is to get active. While you do not want to push or be overbearing, you can still extend the invitation and provide gentle encouragement.

6. Be patient
People who struggle with mental health issues may be perceived as flaky, controlling, negative, or quiet; however, these can be the consequence of navigating an uncomfortable internal state. While you may find yourself becoming frustrated or annoyed with someone’s behavior, try to remain compassionate. We are all human, which means none of us are perfect and all of us will struggle at one point or another. Treat someone with the same grace and respect that you would want to receive in your darkest moments.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please call Symmetry Counseling at (312) 578-9990 to speak with an intake specialist today. You can also visit our website to read about our counselors in Chicago and submit an intake form.

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