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Fact Sheet

Supporting someone with a mental illness

Tips for supporting a friend with a mental illness

Someone who is experiencing mental health difficulties is usually able to live a successful full life, particularly if he or she is receiving help to manage the illness. But it’s not uncommon for a stigma to be attached to someone who is having a hard time. A person with a mental illness might feel embarrassed, or like an outcast. Often people with mental health difficulties worry that others will tease them or treat them differently. Here are some tips for making your friend feel more comfortable:

Avoid being judgmental. Be aware of the stigma associated with mental health difficulties, but keep an open mind. This might help create a safe environment for your friend, which can allow him or her to relax and enjoy life.

Talk about what your friend finds helpful. Make sure that the conversations you have about your friend’s illness are easy and open. Try asking about what helps your friend get through the tough times. By talking openly, you’re letting your friend know that you love and support them. You might also want to talk about what you have read on ReachOut and ask how your friend feels about it.

Respect your friend’s limits. There might be times when your friend says that he or she isn’t able to hang out because of the illness. It’s important that you respect this and don’t put extra pressure on your friend. Often, people who are taking medication can’t drink alcohol because it could trigger a harmful reaction. This might make certain social situations hard for your friend. If you know that your friend is unable to drink, it might be helpful to choose activities that don’t involve alcohol when you hang out.

Encourage your friend to stick with medication. It’s likely that someone with a long-term mental illness will be on regular medication. The medication might have side effects, which could mean that your friend might not like taking it. But medication is often an important part of managing the illness, and your friend might need your support to keep taking it.

If your friend stops using or changes the amount of medication he or she is taking without permission from a psychiatrist or medical doctor, encourage your friend to make an appointment quickly. Similarly, if your friend is experiencing side effects that weren’t expected, he or she should also contact his or her psychiatrist or physician.

Ensure that you have contact numbers. Having the contact numbers of people like your friend’s psychiatrist or doctor could be important if you need to help your friend through a crisis, or if your friend is saying or doing things that worry you about his or her safety.

Getting help for your friend

For those who have a mental health issue, there might be periods of time when things aren’t manageable. Harder times can be triggered if your friend is stressed, or if he or she has recently experienced a traumatic event, or changed medication. These can trigger the characteristics of the mental illness, and most professionals call this event an “episode.”

If you’re concerned that your friend isn’t behaving normally, it’s important to encourage him or her to talk to someone trustworthy, like a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. If you think that your friend is likely to hurt himself or herself or someone else, find help immediately—even if your friend doesn’t want you to. This may even mean accompanying your friend to the nearest emergency room or going with your friend to see a counselor.

If feeling suicidal or in crisis, your friend might also find it helpful to speak with the The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), where trained volunteers listen to people who are in crisis or stressed. Youth helpline Your Life Your Voice at 1-800 448-3000, run by Boys Town for everyone, is also available to listen 24/7.

Looking after yourself

Sometimes when you help a friend, you might forget to look after yourself. It’s important to take care of your own needs while you’re helping out your friend. Make sure that you don’t give up things that you enjoy, and if you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed, take some time out and relax.

Information for this fact sheet

National Mental Health Association (now known as Mental Health America) report on Giving Support to Someone Close to You.

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