How to deal: Providing support when friends and family have mental illness

26 Mar

Brain art by Wildrose Hamilton.

It can be very hard when people you care about are coping with mental health challenges.  Here are some resources and approaches that I find helpful.

  • Understand that you’re not going to ‘fix’ anyone, and you shouldn’t try.
  • Remember that you’re coming from a place of love.
  • Listen actively. (how do they feel about their illness? are their symptoms better or worse today?)
  • Don’t only talk about illness. That’s a recipe for creating further isolation, a vacuum of disease.
  • Share physical activities, without pushing anyone to the point where they feel uncomfortable.
  • Read up on what they’re going through.
    • NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness
    • MHA, Mental Health America
    • CMHA, Canadian Mental Health Association
  • Be aware of any comments or behaviors that seem potentially suicidal. If you suspect your friend or family member is suicidal, treat it seriously and get help.
  • Work to build a society that embraces difference in personality, ability, health and other aspects. Call out insulting and incorrect statements. Eliminate stigma of mental illness.
  • Find support groups in your area.
  • Get trained in Mental Health First Aid.

Don’t forget about self-care.  You won’t be much help to anyone if you’re not getting enough sleep and forgetting to eat.  A yoga class, a nap, a sandwich, or a walk can make a big difference in your ability to fully present and supportive.

What else would you add to this list?


“We Are Fine,” a new song by Sharon Van Etten about having a friend talk her through a panic attack.  Featuring Zach Condon of Beirut.


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