My Friend Has a Mental Health Disorder. How Do I Support Him/Her?

Supportive friends can play an important role in the mental health recovery process.  All too often, people respond negatively or dismissively when someone discloses that he/she has a mental health disorder.  It is important to remember that mental health disorders are just as real as physical illnesses and that a person cannot just “snap out of it.” If you are unsure how to react when a friend tells you that he/she is struggling with a mental health disorder, it can be helpful to think about how you would react if that same friend told you that he/she had been diagnosed with a physical disorder like diabetes.

Below are some tips about how you may want to respond if a friend tells you that he/she has a mental health disorder:

Show your support. Express your concern and sympathy, talk openly and make sure that your friend knows that he/she is not alone. The most important thing you can do is just offer to be available.

Listen. If your friend talks about their mental health diagnosis, don’t change the subject. 

  • Resist the temptation to give advice or dismiss their concerns.
  • If your friend discloses personal information, keep his/her trust by not sharing the information with others. The exception is talk about suicide. When suicide is mentioned, it’s time to tell a professional and get help!  If you’re feeling overwhelmed by what he/she has told you, contacting CAPS or another helpline can be a good way to get advice while still keeping information confidential.

Rachel and Lauren

Watch the story of two friends, and how Lauren’s support and willingness to listen, help Rachel manage her bipolar disorder.
From halfofus.com

Ask what you can do to help. You can leave this open-ended (“I want to know how I can best support you.”) or suggest specific tasks that might be helpful (“Can I drive you to your appointment?”).  If you know that your friend is struggling in school, it can be helpful just to offer to study with him/her.

Ask if your friend is getting the treatment that she/he wants and needs. If not, offer to find out about available resources and help your friend find effective care.

Reassure your friend that you still care about him/her.

  • Many people with mental health disorders tend to withdraw from family and friends.
  • Continue to invite your friend to go to dinner, study, talk, or just hang out.
  • Even if he/she doesn’t always feel like talking or spending time together, it can be a comfort just to know that he/she has friends that care.

Educate yourself about your friend’s disorder. This can help you to know what to expect. Click for more information on:

Support your friend’s healthy behaviors.

  • Certain strategies, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising can be helpful when managing one’s mental health.
  • Know that alcohol and other drugs interfere with most psychiatric medications, making them less effective and, in some cases, dangerous.
  • Click here for resources if you’re worried that a friend may be abusing alcohol or other drugs.

Take care of yourself.  It can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming to take on the care of a friend.

Not sure what to say? You’re not alone.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell which of our well-meaning comments will be helpful and which may actually hurt more than they help.  Below are some guidelines from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance for talking with someone who shows symptoms of a mental health disorder.  Put the statements into your own words.  What’s most important is that your friend understands your support.
 

WHAT HELPS

WHAT HURTS

I know you have a real illness and that’s what causes these thoughts and feelings.

It’s all in your head.

I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.

We all go through times like this.

You are important to me. Your life is important to me.

You have so much to live for-- why do you want to die?

Tell me what I can do now to help you.

What do you want me to do?
I can’t do anything about your situation.

You might not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.

Just snap out of it.
Look on the bright side.

You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.

You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.

Talk to me. I’m listening.

Here’s my advice…

I am here for you. We will get through this together.

What’s wrong with you?
Shouldn’t you be better by now?

 

Next > Links to More Information on How to Help

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