Dealing with a mental illness can be tough. Learning to accept it as a part of your life can be a struggle, and sometimes it seems like a constant uphill battle. But something that makes it that little bit easier, is having friends and family who try to understand, and do everything in their power to help you feel better. While it can be hard to fully understand what your loved one is going through when you’re not going through it yourself, there are lots of things you can do to aid their recovery. It’s the little things that count, and here are some simple tips that could make a huge difference.
Accept that they have an illness. Don’t patronise them by telling them “it’s just a phase” or that they’ll “get over it”, especially after they’ve had a medical professional diagnose them with a mental illness. While you may have thought it was nothing before, you now have proof that there really is something wrong, and all you can do now is accept it. More often than not, people are afraid to talk about their mental illness for fear of rejection from their friends and family. Show them that not everybody is like that, be that person that they can trust and confide in. They know that if they had a physical illness, acceptance wouldn’t be a problem, but show them that you’ll accept them no matter what the problem is.
Research and educate yourself on the illness. Whether it’s something more common like depression, or something you’re less familiar with like borderline personality disorder, make it your aim to learn about the illness. When a person is first diagnosed with an illness, it can be tiring and stressful telling people the same thing and answering the same questions over and over again. If you show that you have an understanding of an illness, it will make it easier for your loved one to open up to you. For example, if they’ve just been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and are having panic attacks, all it takes is for you to ask “And what happens when you’re having a panic attack? I read that they can cause shortness of breath and shaking” for the sufferer to think, “Yes! Somebody understands!” It might seem small, but it’s one less thing for them to explain to you. Knowing that you’ve made an effort to learn about the illness will help them to open up to you more.
Ask how you can help. Instead of just presuming that you know what to do from whatever research you’ve done, ask them if there’s any way that you can help. Of course you can incorporate what you’ve learned into this, but there might be something more specific and personal that helps your loved one out. After all, everyone is unique and we all deal with things differently. Just a simple text saying, “You looked a little down today. Is there anything I could do to help?” is showing them that you’re aware of what they’re going through and that you care.
Listen to them. Sometimes when your mental illness, whatever it is, has taken its toll on you and you’re having a bad day, all you need is somebody to talk to. What your loved one needs right now is a listener, not somebody who’ll butt in every five minutes with “Yeah that happened to me before but…” or “It’ll be fine as long as you…” Your friend or family member is in a state of distress, and you can’t be of any help to them unless you hear the full extent of how they’re feeling. Let them get everything off their chest, and then you can offer them your advice.
Encourage them to try new treatment methods. Getting better can be a very slow and gradual process, and from herbal remedies to hypnotherapy it can all seem a bit much. If the medication they’re on isn’t working, encourage them to go back to their doctor to see if they can switch it up. Different medication works for different peo
ple, and sometimes it can take a while to find the one that’s best suited to you. Don’t let them give up, and keep reminding them that they will eventually find something that makes them feel better.
If you know someone with a mental illness, then I really hope this post has helped you see how you can help. If you have a mental illness yourself and your friends and family are struggling to understand, show them this. Whether you plonk the laptop in front of them on the kitchen table or just send them a link on Facebook, the chances are they’ll read it, and hopefully learn a thing or two.
Choose your words wisely. If you want to be a good friend, don’t say things like “cheer up” or “there’s people out there who have it worse”. Chances are, your loved one has heard this all a million times before, but does it help? No. If anything, saying something like this to a person with a mental illness will drive them further and further away from you, it will be clear to them that you don’t understand what they’re going through.