• advertisement

Our Mental Health Blogs

How to Help Someone with a Mental Illness

I talk to many people who want to help a person with a mental illness. Often the people they want to help are loved ones who have just been diagnosed with a mental illness and those who want to help feel powerless.

The “helpers” have a hard job, but let me just say, we love you for it.

You Are Powerless Over a Mental Illness

Let’s just start by recognizing that mental illness is a real illness and you can’t fix it any more than you can fix cancer. I appreciate that you want to take the pain away, but please understand, you can’t. You need to accept that.

42-16474021You Can Be a Powerhouse of Support

That being said, you can have an extremely important role in helping us get better. Support and love are the best things in the world.

When someone is diagnosed they may feel defective, unlovable and like they will be abandoned. If you can stand by the person with love and support and with a reminder that you’re not going anywhere, that is a magnificent gift.

Supporting a Sick Person is Hard

It’s really tough to weather the storms of a mental illness. It’s tough for the person with the illness and it’s tough for those around them. We know it’s hard. That’s why it’s such an amazing gift to try to help.

What You Can Do to Support Someone with a Mental Illness

  1. Tell them you love them, support them and won’t leave them.
  2. Tell them that they are not broken and they are the person they have always been, but they just have an illness
  3. Learn about their illness. The amount of information available out there on any illness is daunting. If you can fill in some of the blanks and do some of the work, particularly in the beginning, that’s a great help. Plus it will give you insight into what they’re going through.
  4. Help them get treatment. Drive them to appointments. Make sure they have their medications. Make sure they are talking to their doctor or therapist.
  5. Check in. Make sure they are doing OK. Make sure they are following the treatment plan.
  6. Offer to take care of a chore. Offer to make dinner. Offer to vacuum. The smallest thing is wonderful.
  7. Ask the person what they need. We’re all different and what works for us is different so the person with a mental illness can tell you best what they need.

What You Need to Do for You

Remember, get help for yourself. It’s hard to be there for a sick person. It can be really hard on you. Get your own support. It’s OK to say you need help too.

Make sure you create some boundaries. If you do everything on the list you will fall over of exhaustion. Pick reasonable things you can do. No one can do it all.

Your Support is a Gift

Whatever you do, know that your support is a gift. We might not be able to tell you at this moment. We might be too wrapped up in our illness to tell you how wonderful you are. Other people would run, but you didn’t. Your support doesn’t have to be perfect to be amazing.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Test test test

98 thoughts on “How to Help Someone with a Mental Illness”

  1. This has got to be one of my favourite blog posts by you ever. I have people who are working to support me, and I work to support others dealing with mental illness as well. It’s nice to see somewhat of a guide on how to help.

  2. Hi Ash,

    Well thank-you, that is quite a high compliment. I’m happy to help.

    (I actually wrote it in response to someone who was trying to help a newly diagnosed individual and asked me for advice on how to do it. I realized I hadn’t written on it which I considered to be an oversight on my part.)

    – Natasha

  3. NO! You do have power over your illness. It may take time to find out what it is and how to use it, but it’s there. There is something hat you can do.And after that there is always something else that can be done. Each of us is ultimately responsible for our own wellness. If you don’t believe that you can get better, and you don’t try, it wont happen!

  4. Hi Natasha,
    My son is the person I try to help. I do take him to doctor/counseling appointments, try to check in, send him notes and let him know how much I care, but I’m truly tired of the destructive cycles – the rebuilding after the crashes, the wondering if he’s alive when he takes off. I’m always going to care and love him, but he’s pulling away from me because he feels I should just let him live his life, even if it involves drug use and taking off at the drop of a hat backpacking across the United States w/ no resources or plan. He’s left abruptly 4 other times w/ no word. The first time, I filed a missing persons report. The fourth time, I hadn’t heard from him for 3 months but decided I couldn’t just keep reporting it when he does this. So, I’ve backed off. When we discuss hard drugs, I can’t just “accept” this as part of his life because it’s so destructive and disastrous. My son feels because he’s telling me he’s leaving this time that it’s ok. I understand the choice is his but feel overwhelmed because it’s hard to get him to appointments and hard to rebuild when he comes back. I guess I feel like why should I do that if he’s going to just throw it away and take off once more. Knowing myself, I’ll encourage him to go to appointments and think it through, but I’m really confused about what I’m doing with all of it. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Zoe

  5. Ron, just a note! At the age of 16 I had “an episode” my parents sought treatment for me and when I became an adult I continued with the treatment. I did everything asked of me as far as meds, counseling, therapy, inpatient, etc…. When I was 17 I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and GAD. The diagnoses continued and the anti-depressants kept changing. FINALLY at the age of 43, I was correctly diagnosed with BP1, GAD and several others. Even though mental illness runs in my family, the main problem with mine is I am med resistant b/c I had been misdiagnosed for all those years and given anti-depressants that threw me into manic episodes. I did everything that was asked of me and yet it was the “Experts” that did not do their job and I am paying for it now. So, NO, everyone does not always have power over their illness. People may think they do, but they may find out later they were wrong.

  6. Ron,

    Yes, you have control over getting treatment and choosing treatment, but that’s not the same thing as having control over an illness. As I said, you don’t have control over cancer either.

    I’m all for being empowered and fully agree that we all choose to work to make our lives better but thinking you have control over a disease is naive and while you might not have meant it, it also minimizes the experience of all those who have done everything possible to get better but aren’t having success.

    – Natasha

  7. Hi Zoe,

    I’m sorry to hear that’s happening. It’s extremely difficult to be in your position.

    I’ve written elsewhere about knowing when to walk away from someone with a mental illness. Not because you want to or because you don’t care but because it’s critical that you establish your own boundaries and take care of yourself.

    If you insist on clinging to someone to refuses to swim, you both drown.

    What I recommend is defining boundaries for yourself. Things you can stick to and live with. Define what you will accept, what you won’t, and communicate that with your son. Tell him his actions are hurtful and you won’t allow that to continue. Tell him why you want him to get treatment, what damage the illness is doing to his life. In the best of all worlds, this will make him want to recommit to treatment, but that just might not be reasonable.

    Some people would call that “tough love” but really it’s not. It’s just admitting that you are important and need your needs met too. If, at a later date, he is willing to commit to treatment, then you might want to take a more active role. That’s your choice.

    But like I said, it can’t always be all about someone else. You matter too.

    – Natasha

  8. My wife and I are an a very closed position as Zoe, with the exeption that our son doesn’t go away, he is on Pritiq (desvenlafasina) and other antidepresant. We notice chages in his behavior; personality, eating disorders. He missed his last apppointment with the psiquiatry, now we have the next appointment on august 2011, I say we; because I myself have to see the same psiquiatry, actually we are a family of five and all need some kind of help.

  9. This was a really helpful post for me, even though it was somewhat hard for me to read. My husband of a year has had Bipolar Mania since he was 16 and ADHD since he was 7 (a difficult combination), and I am his main supporter. I myself have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. We have an 18 month old son and we’ve already had the genetics talk about all 3 disorders with his doctor… Wow.

    But this comment isn’t about my son, its about my husband. Let me tell you, its HARD supporting him, and right now I have little support for myself. No one seems to understand him or his mental disorder, and so I am having to carry this load on my own. He has a really hard time with his “down periods” and its a struggle for us to get through them. We are still figuring out his correct medicine doses and working with a therapist who’s wonderful with (aka making progress) but every time I go to another person for support when I feel like I most need it, they tell me to just leave him. He has never physically hurt me or my son, but all anyone ever sees him as is abusive. I absolutely hate that Bipolar is associated with abusive. Everyone immeadiately thinks its that when its not. I’m his only supporter and I need support myself. That’s all!

    His family understands his mental disorder but they always will downplay it. I don’t feel like I get any support from them either. I’m just overly exhausted from carrying the load that is his Bipolar all by myself for almost three years now. I’m starting to turn to online support and to NAMI. Any support from people here would also be very helpful. I’m just tired of having to go through this all alone, and with people not understanding. Its very toxic to my own mental state.

    Thanks for listening.

  10. Thank you for your response, Natasha. Boundaries can be so hard to set, especially because it makes you think you’re letting go and that’s very scary. My son plans to go to West at the end of the month by walking there back-packing through the desert. He’s bought a compass and is reading about traveling through there. Over the past few years, he’s done something similar every 3 to 4 months. Initially, when I didn’t hear from him for some time, I filed missing person’s reports, but when it kept happening & with him being of age – I could no longer do that. He plans on writing about his experiences. I will too just as a strategy to get through it. This is one of our disagreements, but it would appear this is something he’s going to continue to do. It seems to be related to cycling, but he feels it’s different this time because he’s telling me first and researching. He’s 24. What can I do? He said to me, “When are you going to understand I’m just not going to be like everyone else?” Truthfully, I’m really seeing that; I just want him to be safe, and see there can be good in life. What’s a mom to do?

    Jillian – it would be great if you could attend a support group. Some of the people there would really understand what you’re going through.

    Fabian & Maria – I feel for you. That’s alot. Like Natasha’s note to me, I hope you take care of yourself and take time for you and your wife.

    Ron, I understand your comment, but my son was grounded or had some other consequence his entire childhood. I’m sure it was no fun. As a parent, I felt I had to “punish” the bad choices and help him learn what was “right”. I’m not saying we shouldn’t consequence, but it really didn’t help him learn as a young person and made us both miserable. Logically, I can’t believe he’d want so many consequences if he could help his own behavior. My son’s style of processing, difficulty w/ meds and that traditional school just wasn’t working for him all played a role. We went to counseling and read tons of books. Sometimes, a specific answer just isn’t there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us

Subscribe to Blog

  • advertisement

in Breaking Bipolar Comments

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Mental Health
Newsletter Subscribe Now!

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Log in

Login to your account

Username *
Password *
Remember Me