How To Help Someone With a Mental Illness

Hey guys! I’m so sorry it has been a few weeks since I last posted, I’ve been really busy with midterms and homework. However, one of the things I was busy with was an informative speech about my topic of choosing, and I chose to discuss what OCD really is (not the stigmatized version), and that was a lot of fun to prepare since it was in an area I know a lot about. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people really don’t know how to handle mental illness and what to do about it. This prompted me to want to make the subject of this blog post about how you can help someone with a mental illness. Understanding how you can help can not only help your loved ones and friends that are struggling, but it makes you feel better knowing that you are making their difficult journey a little easier. Now, I’m no expert, so these points might not be 100% foolproof, especially because each mental illness is different, as is each degree of mental illness in a person, and the people themselves. However I believe these points to be general enough to apply to helping people of pretty much all mental illnesses. Here are 5 ways you can help someone with a mental illness:

1. Only Talk To Them About It If They Want To

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Some people are very open about their mental illness, and some are not. As a friend, family member, or significant other, it is your job to gauge how much to talk about and if you should talk about it at all. Don’t force them to talk about something if they don’t want to. This may seem obvious, but people have a tendency to forget that mental illness is very hard on the victim and it can’t be talked about as casually as you can expect to talk about failing a test or experiencing frustration. They might not be ready to address it with others, or they may be worried you will judge them like the rest of society does, or they may just feel as if you will not understand. Regardless of their reasoning, if they do not want to talk about it, try your best to respect that and give them the space they need, especially at first in their journey. Unless the person is at risk of harming themselves or others, you should do your best to meet them where they are. If they are at risk of harming themselves or others, reach out to them immediately and take proper actions (call 911, call an adult, etc.).

However, perhaps they do want to talk about it, and in that case, you should! Remind your friend/family member/significant other that they are not alone, express that you care and are concerned for them. Be open to mostly listening; often those who want to talk about their illness really just want someone to listen. Often the person doesn’t really want your advice on how to handle it or what to do, especially if you don’t have a mental illness. This isn’t because they don’t love and care for you, but rather it’s just a simple fact that your advice is limited through your own experience, and if you don’t really have experience in the mental health department, then you can’t help them as much as if you did.

2. Do Some Research

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If you know what the person you are wanting to help has, then try to do some research on it! Mental illness does not have to be the closed book we made it out to be, there are thousands of articles and YouTube videos that can explain a condition and symptoms in ways the average person can understand! In fact, there are even videos about to help someone with specific mental illnesses that would be good to watch! It would mean a lot to the person you care for to show them that you have looked into what they are struggling with and aren’t just basing what you say to them off of the stereotypes society has implanted into us about mental illnesses. Doing this shows your loved one that you care enough to try to understand and that you don’t believe whatever lies our world has said about their mental illness. If they have not shared with you what specific their mental illness they have, you can ask if you feel that would be okay, or if not, just wait until that opportunity presents itself! You’ll often find that mental illnesses can affect much more than mood, including eating habits, decision making, their perception of the world, their emotions, cognitive behavior, physical activity, and much more. The more you know about the illness, the easier it will be to behave in a way that relaxes the person and causes them to feel less stressed/triggered.

3. If You Have Questions, Ask!

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Again, use your discernment on this one to decide how much/what specially to ask, but in general if you know the person well enough and they have shared with you they have a mental illness, they probably won’t mind your questions! In fact, I’m sure more people are willing to listen to these questions than you think, because asking questions is essential to learning and those with mental illnesses want people to learn the truth about their illness, so don’t be afraid to ask! They understand that you don’t know the struggle for the most part, and they don’t expect you to. No one with a mental illness expects anyone (except maybe others who have the same mental illness to the same degree..which is hard to come by) to fully get it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to do whatever they can to help someone understand it! So, ask away!

4. Stop Acting As If It’s A Choice

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Don’t be degrading to someone with a mental illness by saying to someone, “Just don’t worry,” “Why can’t you just calm down?”, “You’re crazy,” “Stop being irrational,” “Stop obsessing,” etc. As I said in the speech I recently gave on OCD, “if it was that simple, OCD (or insert any other mental illness) wouldn’t be a disease.” It is NOT a choice to have a mental illness, and mental illness isn’t a light switch. You can’t just turn it on and off when you please. If they couldn’t turn it on, what makes you think they could turn it off? This is where the research really comes into place, because the more you know about what the person struggles with, the more conscious you will likely be about what you say around them. For instance, you wouldn’t say to your friend struggling with anxiety to just, “stop worrying,” or your suicidal colleague to, “stop being so dramatic.” Trust me, if they could do those things, I’m positive they would. These comments contribute nothing and only make you look foolish and super ignorant on the subject. Plus, if you care about them, you can surely come up with something less inconsiderate than that.

Honestly, it shouldn’t even matter if someone is particularly close to you or not. We should avoid these phrases all together, even with people we don’t suspect have a mental illness, because honestly it’s a pretty rude way to respond to someone who is struggling with something. 1 in 5 Americans struggle with a mental illness, so it’s much more common than you think. You have no idea who around you is struggling, so try to be more conscious about what your responses are to people. Maybe the girl who is always abnormally stressed and scared a lot of the time isn’t “just wanting attention,” maybe she has anxiety. Maybe your boy/girlfriend who always needs reassurance you care for them isn’t “ridiculously needy,” maybe they have OCD. Maybe that person in your class who always seems ready to snap at someone isn’t simply “a jerk,” maybe they have Bipolar Disorder. I know that this is not always the case. Some people do just want attention, happen to be really needy, or are simply mean people. I am not saying to allow people to walk all over you or to excuse every bad behavior. All I am saying is often we as a society are so quick to judge and label others without knowing what could be going on behind the scenes.

5. Don’t Treat Them As If They Are Helpless

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While it is important to be kind, to give grace, and to be understanding, those with mental illnesses are not helpless and do not appreciate being treated as such. The mentally sick are not feeble. In fact, they are the opposite. It is not the mentally healthy who are fighting mental health battles every day, nor is it the mentally healthy that have to wake up every day to a new fight with the same demon that has been tormenting them for who knows how long. The mentally sick are far from disabled, and most certainly not weak. In fact, those with mental illness are some of the strongest people I know. To get up each day, knowing it will be a fight, and to choose every day to fight yourself on something you did not even ask for takes more strength than most of us have. Imagine what it is like to literally be at war with your brain. You can’t escape it; it’s your brain. For some, simply getting through another day is a victory. Checking the door is locked 10 times instead of 15 is a victory. Holding down a meal is a victory. It takes true strength to live with a mental illness, so stop looking at those with mental illnesses as a lost puppy, or as a child who can’t do much of anything on their own. The mentally ill are not sad little people, they are strong warriors, some of the strongest you will ever meet.

On a side note- never forget to pray for them!! This isn’t listed as one of the main points but prayer always helps! And if you don’t know anyone with a mental illness to pray for, pray for everyone who has/is affected by a mental illness! They could use every prayer you can provide for them!!

I hope that these 5 points have helped show you how to help someone with a mental illness, and I hope in the future your encounters with people who have mental illnesses will be much better because of this post!

With love,
Maddie

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