Sometimes it can be hard to be there for someone with a mental illness. What’s the right thing to say? What if it’s not what they want to hear? It can be even harder to respond if you’ve never dealt with a mental illness yourself, but it’s not impossible. Here are some easy tips to be there for someone with a mental illness:
Avoid say anything like, “You’ll get over it” or “Just stop thinking about it,” because if we could do those things, we surely would have already. Remember, it’s important to treat mental illnesses just like any other disease. You’d never tell someone to get over the flu or stop thinking about their cancer to feel better.
Be positive. Negativity is highly contagious, especially for someone who is already having issues being positive. I don’t mean ignore their pleas for support, but speak positively about their issues and look for ways for them to cope rather than being negative. For example, if someone is telling you about how their anxiety has kept them from going to classes, instead of saying, “That really sucks. I bet your grades are suffering too,” try to find tips on breathing exercises to help cope with anxiety attacks.
Mental illnesses can be mind and body crippling. Sometimes we think we’d just be better off or safer in bed rather than going out into the world. I know for me, I feel trapped when I get out of bed, even though there’s nothing holding me down other than myself. Some days are good, and some days are bad. Let us have our bad days, but don’t let us have a bad day every day. If your friend is spending every day in bed and stops responding to your calls or texts, get them help immediately. Those are warning signs of suicide and need to be taken seriously.
No one is asking you to be a babysitter for this person. That creates more problems than it solves, but being there for them is very important. If it becomes too much for you, and that’s okay to admit to yourself, reach out to other mental health professionals and organizations to help your friend. Like I said already, it’s not easy to be there for someone with a mental illness, and if it becomes too much stress, help them find a professional to give them the help they need.
Remind them of their strength and how important they are to you. Self-esteem plays hand-in-hand with mental illnesses and it can be difficult for them to remember how great of a person they are. And remind them of this: This too shall pass. My dad sent me this and I remind myself of it every morning when I find it nearly impossible to get out of bed. It does get better, but most of the time, we don’t know how long that is going to take. That’s hard to think about. That’s why I always remind myself of those four words: “This too shall pass,” because it will.
Learn more about mental health at the National Alliance on Mental Illness or Active Minds websites. You can also chat or call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to talk to about how to respond to someone that is thinking about suicide.
Being there for someone with a mental illness can be hard, but you don’t have to be perfect.
You don’t need to know all the answers. You just need to be there.