It’s simple to say you’re there for people.
Sharing a post on social media about mental illness and how everyone should “reach out to their friends.” Saying you’ll be there for someone or telling your friend that you’re worried about- “hey, you can talk to me about anything.” It is well thought. Don’t get me wrong it’s appreciated but it’s not what actually helps.
Especially when it comes to people with mental illness, they can make you feel like you’re doing too much; while simultaneously making you feel like you’re not doing enough. They can need so much from someone but tell you “they’re good, don’t worry” to your face. Simply checking in is not enough.
That’s why if you want to love and care for people with mental illness you have to ACTUALLY love and care for them. It’s not for the faint of heart. You can’t take things personally. If you’re hearts not in it, don’t pretend that it is. (I’ll get back to this again at the end.)
Let me start by saying all illness is different and none show up the same in anyone.
Some people have more good days, some have a lot of made bad days. Some people are wonderful at talking about their feelings and others will never utter a word about the demons they’re fighting. Some people live in complete denial while others almost embrace it. There’s no right or wrong way to have a mental illness.
Here’s a little list of ways you can actually help a friend, spouse, child, or loved one having a hard time with their mental illness.
Do your research.
Learn the ins and outs of the illness. Every single one is different. One person’s anxiety can be caused by OCD while another can be caused my PTSD. Those will manifest in different ways.
There are so many stigma’s and stereotypes around mental illness’ that need to be broken. If you’re the loved one of someone diagnosed, let it start with you. Educate yourself and everyone you know. Learn how maybe that overspending or over-eating problem; isn’t just them being irresponsible- it’s the illness. It’s something they have no control of. They don’t need anyone making them feel worse. Give them encouragement.
Learn their triggers. Learn about triggers. TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY.
Looks up warning signs of things getting worse, things you should/shouldn’t say, stigmas related to that specific illness. Join group board of people living with people with illnesses and turn to those people for advice. Don’t turn to uneducated people for advice they could lead you down a path that doesn’t improve the situation.
Make them a doctor’s appointment.
Sometimes the hardest part of getting treatment is arranging the point and showing up. Take away anything that could cause extra stress. Look up wonder doctors in the area, ask your friend “hey, I’ve heard this doctor is really good at this, do you want me to call and try to get you in? I’ll even take you and sit in the waiting room with you!”
If your best friend was diagnosed with cancer you wouldn’t make them go through that all alone. Mental illness is something so many battles completely alone. Sometimes you don’t have to have the right words, just showing up and being there can do the trick.
Help them out around the house.
Sometimes people going through a rough patch can make the little daily chores impossible. Doing the dishes, laundry, or even taking the trash out become things of the past. This is NOT something they are proud of. It’s also not them just being lazy.
Don’t nag them, make fun of them, or make them feel gross for it.
Find a way to relate to them. Tell a story about when something was going on with you and “you didn’t shower for 4 days.” What they’re doing is completely normal for someone battling what they are. Ask if they’d like help or JUST DO IT. Come over to hang out and while they take out the trash or do the laundry.
This could make their whole week. A clean space can make them feel so much happier but getting to that clean space seems nearly impossible in their eyes. Make them space happen! Be a friend and love them.
Listen and sympathize.
If they are telling you what is driving them crazy and you’re sitting there thinking “Wow, that is not a big deal at all. Can’t relate.” Congratulations my friend, you’re not struggling like they are. To someone struggling the smallest things can seem like mountains. They don’t need you telling them that.
Guess what? Most of the time deep, deep down they always know that. As someone that has personally struggled with things, I’ve been in the middle of a rant and thought “Wow, this is not a big deal at all.” The thing is the illness doesn’t let you just snap out of it. 2 seconds later, the thought is back to terrifying you again.
It’s unexplainable and shouldn’t have to be explained to people that aren’t willing to understand. Just listen and really try to put yourself in their shoes. Think from a person that’s in their position would. Give them legit advice, help them treat that problem like it’s the biggest deal ever.
You can always assure them that everything will be okay, in a loving way but the main point is not to completely brush the problem away. Don’t tell someone you’re always there for them and then turn around and make them feel guilty for reaching out.
Get them out of the house
Plan a day with them. Take them to do their favorite thing. Take them to get their nail, to see a movie you know they’ll love, or to their favorite restaurant. Make it a habit. Don’t just be one & one. Truly be there and care. If it’s someone that lives out of town for you and you know they are struggling. Surprise them! Show up! Be there! Genuine concern can make all the difference in the world.
If your concern isn’t genuine- don’t offer to help.
I do not mean this in a negative way at all. Sometimes life is busy. You won’t have time to do all of the things. You won’t have the mental capability to do these things. Maybe you’re even struggling yourself and doing these things for someone you love is impossible. Guess what, that’s okay.
You can care from a distance and still make a difference. Don’t be the person that makes plans and cancels. Don’t say you’re there for them and never return a call or text. If you know you can’t truly be there, don’t pretend you will be. A simple “hey I care about you, take care of yourself” will go way further than standing them up for coffee would.
Okay, I know you’re thinking- wow, that’s a lot of things I have to do.
You’re right. That’s where the whole ” you have to ACTUALLY love and care for them. It’s not for the faint of heart. You can’t take things personally. If you’re hearts not in it, don’t pretend that it is” thing I mentioned at the top comes into play.
People with mental illness are normally super intuned with emotions. We can tell when people are being fake and just being nice for show. We may not call you out on it- but we know. Don’t be that person.
Please keep in mind that you also can’t save anyone with mental illness and it’s not ever your fault.
You could do all of these things and your loved one can still be suffering. It’s hard having a mental illness and it’s hard loving a person with mental illness. They know that and guess what they appreciate every genuine thing you do. At the end of the day, their happiness is NOT your responsibility and don’t make yourself think that it is.
if you or someone you love is dealing with suicidal thoughts please reach out for help or seek medical attention immediately. If you’re struggling with mental illness, please do not be ashamed to reach out. we’re rooting for you.
National Suicide Hotline (Open 24/7)- 1-800-273-8255
25 Mental Health Resources
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