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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

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

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

  1. Any advice on getting guardianship/ conservatorship? 72 year old mother, unmedicated, bipolar disorder, disease progressively worsening after lifetime of refusal to take medication, getting to the point where she is wrecking some major havoc with her finances in addition to experiencing some fairly major paranoid delusions. Involved the legal system 16 years ago and all that resulted was insurance benefits exhausted, our relationship was fairly adversely affected because I had her committed against her will and she hasnt really ever forgiven me, no medications given because she threatened hospital with lawsuit despite having court order to treat, hospital threatened to ship her off to large city nursing home far away when I pressed the issue, so I have been loath to do that again but I need to step in and take over soon to prevent her from becoming homeless and not sure how to go about it without paying an attorney an arm and a leg- looking for educational resources . Any help would be appreciated.

  2. Unlike other illnesses, mental ones require longlived and lucid care, with many perplex emotional experiences. So it is of vital meaning to have got elementary knowledge about this category of humane pathology to provide functional a satisfying help to anyone with mental disorder. First of all it ought to know that mental illness is like any other somatic disorder that need medical and paramedical care. Indeed mental disorder indicates any disturbance of brain’s chemical substances. The correction of these biochemical distraction requires comprehensive and appropriate psychiatric treatment, which ones didn,t exclude any psycho-social intervention. The best way to help any person with mental illness is to have compassion and sincere intention to support the same person. The main principle for that performance are given by your seven suggestions that compensate meaningfully up do date psychiatric treatment and management of any mental disorder. In this direction the objection to set the limit between yourself on psychiatric patient exhibits crucial remark, because mental illness surmount interpersonal relations with harmful emotional and personal repercussions, as well. Inassmuch as we remount this limit, then we harm oneself and psychiatric patient. Therefore the process of helping and support should be moderate and in concordance with personal needs and desires of mentally ill patients. Any surpassing of professional helping would damage the appropriate psychiatric treatment of pertain psychiatric patient.

  3. I have a family member (early 20s) who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia and psychosis. It’s been over 2 years since the illness fully manifested. There were 3 hospitalizations in the early stages…and since then we’ve been doing our best to avoid sending him there. The stays never seemed to help him…His psychiatrist also acknowledgesd that he doesn’t belong there (no offense to other patients in the clinic). Anyhow things were going fairly well (had a job + no glaring symptoms) , until few months ago (after a vacation) started exhibiting symptoms (laughing, talking to himself, lying). Main issue he wants to drink (can’t afford it), and we’ve seen it derail his life in the past (misdemeanor), so we have zero tolerance policy. Now we suspect he’s been stealing. We don’t know what to do…and have questions:
    1. Are there any inpatient centers where he can stay for a shot-term period that are affordable? We are unable to manage…lost my job bc I had to take time off too many times. But we also know…3-7 day stay at the same center isn’t going to help. Also it requires voluntary admission…but we don’t want to wait for an emergency like in the past (all 3 times, cops had to be called). He’s made major strides (no longer violent), but needs help. How can we help?

    2. Should we let him get caught? Or continue try preventing crisis where cops are called…it’s impossible to follow him around everywhere he goes.

  4. Can you truly help someone, or multiple people at the same time who have mental illness if he/she does not help the self?
    What degree should you be involved in the happenings of mental illness so that you can remain functioning and healthy?
    When is it time to step back, set boundaries and let he/she do the heavy lifting and lean on the mental health professionals?

    All of these questions are relevant. I have come to the conclusion it is necessary to step back as it helps both you and the person(s) you love and care for. I am in my mid 30’s and I have been dealing with mental illness in my family since I was 5 years old with my mother who is bi-polar and on medication long-term and now my youngest sister recently diagnosed as bi-polar with psychosis and currently hospitalized.

    I have also dated several people with untreated mental illness of similar nature to my mother and my sister.
    My partner of almost 4 years has OCD including relationship OCD however is very self aware and functioning — I think this helps to develop awareness. He knows my life and I know his, he knows things I process in relation to his thoughts and actions and he knows I pick up on everything like a sponge. He loves me and I love him and we do so with passion and with honesty – coming back to this simple way is at the heart of our relationship. We have to have checks and balances and also it is okay to be upset with the understanding it is being worked through. I could have chosen to run away but I know that it is work in progress and am enjoying the process of deepening love and hard work.

    For those in a relationship situation, understanding the nature of illness and how it may manifest in your relationship is immensely helpful. I have to be particularly aware that I am sensitive to his moods and projections, positive or negative and know when to step back and give him space and when to talk it out. I have to let him make his own realizations about his illness — this applies to both family and romantic relationships – it should not be different whether it is your mother, sister, brother, father or your partner.

    Remain aware and do not hide anything even to yourself. Have boundaries with what you will and will not accept and take on as your own. Let the other person know that these things are needed to live life in a healthy way. The illness of someone else will be a part of your life and on your mind and in your heart but it is not your job, your burden or your task to take on at your complete expense to “fix” it all.

    For those who are family members dealing with mental illness and/or have a partner that is as well — I really feel for you. And yes, it is okay for you to say that you are exhausted by the effects of mental illness. I have been working at this and it makes me feel better knowing that I have not hidden my feelings as they matter as much as everyone else’s feelings. There is an unpredictability and long-term nature that is all encompassing with mental illness. We do not know what is in someone else’s mind truly as we can only follow the cues and listen. Real progress and understanding is attainable for everyone, whatever the result or ending of the life story.

    I just want to let others know it is okay to step back for your own health until you can appropriately set boundaries, learn about and understand the nature of the mental illness and appreciate how it affects the person you love and care for. It is okay to go and talk to someone yourself to learn how to cope. Be fiercely optimistic in loving others and work and try to love yourself in the process. Life can be a fine and beautiful balance.

  5. Not sure if it’s too late to get a response, but it would help a lot. As a senior I sort of dated this freshman girl (didn’t really because school as strict). I realize that at such a young age these sort of relationships or iffy, but the important part is that after a month or so while I tried to explain my tough situation as a senior boy, she told me that she has bipolar depression. I tried to remain her friend and in the following semester she called me to calm herself down during anxiety attacks while I comforted her through a rough freshman year. Upon graduation I realized that because of age, I couldn’t be there in the way she wanted me to. Teachers weren’t comfortable with me hanging out with her. I want to support her and be there for her, but at the same time how do I do that when being with her makes me feel like I’m breaking some social norm (which I am). People have told me to just let her go, but walking away would not only be extremely hard for me, but painful for her. It’s also just the age, so in a a few years or so, the age won’t even matter. Is it bad that I am the person she often relies on or feels safe with even though I am not necessarily good for her?

  6. Plz help me!!!!
    My sister lives in Delhi , and she is very badly depressed ( I don’t know reason of depression ) but I live in Varanasi , so for metal treatment I need to bring her to varanasi for doctors support.
    How to bring her to varanasi if she strictly refuses my request?
    She is a married woman with 2 children, her weight is approximately 70-80 kg, so how could I mange to bring her home????

  7. Hi maybe you people can help me make mentally ill person stop hurting me . I don’t know what to do any there making me even move, I just don’t know or fix there illness . I have dealt with lot of people with mentally illness but this wants make my life like hell !

  8. I know it’s a post from long time ago. But still I want to ask some questions if it happens someone walk pass here and will answer me.

    My boyfriend he has been depressed for around four years, on and off, tried almost everything he could try: different meds, ECT, even now he just had ketamine infusion. But still the doctor just told him it doesn’t work on him. I don’t know how to comfort him this is too much and too harsh even for me. This is so cruel to him and I couldn’t even imagine how he feels when he knows that even ketamine doesn’t work on him. He is really treatment resistant.

    I just want to know how I can possibly make him feel better. I’m thinking about helping him on changing daily life schedule. But he sometimes told me he is so tired of talking about his depression. I don’t wanna make him run away from me since at least now if I talk to him he still response. Just won’t talk to me first usually it’s me bring up conversation. I can’t risk anything that would push him away.

    Please if anyone can give me some advice that would be very helpful. Thanks. And I wish you all best. At least we have each other.

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