Showing Support

A solid support network can play an important role in the mental health recovery process. If you are unsure how to react when someone tells you that they are struggling with mental health issues, it can be helpful to think about how you would react if that same friend told you that they had been diagnosed with a physical illness like cancer. For example, you wouldn’t tell them it’s their fault for getting cancer.

How to be supportive:

      • Offer to be available for support. Make sure that they know they are not alone. Express your concern and sympathy.
      • Listen. Allow the person to talk openly with you without hearing advice or a dismissal of their thoughts or feelings. If they choose to share personal information with you, do not share it with others, except if they talk about suicide. When suicide is mentioned, it’s time to tell a professional and get help!
      • 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?”).
      • Ask if they are getting the treatment that they want and need. If not, offer to find out about available resources and help your friend find effective care.
      • Reassure them that you care about them. Even if they don’t always feel like talking or spending time together, it can be a comfort just to know that they have people that care.

“When a friend is really struggling and turns to you, the best thing to do is simply just be there to listen to them. Listening isn’t telling them what to do, or how to feel, it is simply providing a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and unconditional kindness. A friend’s job is to show that someone is there to support, love and encourage them, not necessarily to fix their problems.”

    • Many people with mental illness tend to withdraw from loved ones. Continue to invite them to go to dinner, study, talk, or just hang out. Encourage them to do with this other members of their social network as well.
    • Educate yourself about their illness. This can help you to know what to expect. Click for more information on mental illnesses.
  • Support their healthy behaviors. Strategies such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising can be helpful when managing one’s mental health. On the other hand, alcohol and other drugs can make psychiatric medications less effective and dangerous. Visit our resource section if you’re worried that the person you care a
    bout may be misusing alcohol or other drugs.
  • Take care of yourself. It can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming to take care of someone with a mental illness.
    • Take time for yourself; make time to do something you find relaxing
    • Call CAPS if you feel like you could use some support
    • Check out free support groups for families and friends of individuals with psychiatric disorder
  • 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 illness. 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?

     

Additional Resources

  • For more advice on how to help a friend, visit MiTalk or the Active Minds website
  • Learn about the “Do Something” campaign to find out what else you can do.

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