5 Tips For Helping A Friend With Mental Illness
As I age, I become more aware of the importance of friendships, that is, both having good friends and being a good friend. And while we all enjoy brunch with our gal pals, laughing so hard that wine comes spewing from your nose, and hours-long phone calls about the mundane, it is very likely that someone you love has, is, or will experience problems with their mental health. After all, 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition. As we get older, let’s commit to being better friends, during the good times and the not-so-good times.
If you have a friend with a mental illness, you may find it difficult to find the right words to say or to know how to be supportive. While there is no one-size-fits-all technique to support a loved one struggling with a mental health challenge, here are some ways that you can be helpful:
1. Encourage them to and help them to seek professional help. Help them find a psychiatrist and psychologist. This task can be really daunting for someone who is struggling with low motivation, diminished energy, or problems concentrating. Call their insurance company and obtain a list of local providers. Help them complete the intake paperwork. Offer to give them a ride to their appointment.
2. Ask them if they would like to talk about how they feel. Compassionate listening (or deep listening as it is referred to by the Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh) is listening solely with the purpose of relieving the suffering of another. This is not the time to make suggestions, provide corrections, or solve problems. Just listening with compassion helps them to suffer less. Being heard can be cathartic and healing.
3. Ask them, “How can I be helpful to you today?” Many of us have a hard time with asking for help. Let them know you’re willing and available.
4. Make some gentle offers. Everyday tasks can be challenging when struggling with a mental health problem. Offer to share the pot of chili that you made or to pick up some groceries for them while you’re at the grocery store or to walk their dog. It’s often easier for many people to accept specific offers rather than make a request.
5. Be non-judgmental. One of the primary reasons that people do not get help for their mental illness is due to stigma. Remember that words matter and comments like, “Cheer up” aren’t helpful. Seek opportunities to learn more about mental illness through websites like nami.org and samhsa.gov. Obtain psychoeducation and support from a therapist of your own. To have a friend who doesn’t judge, can make all the difference for a friend with mental illness.
Supporting someone else can be overwhelming and stressful, but by using these tips, you can aid in their recovery process and your friendships can become better with age.
Author: Dr. Beverly J. Pedroche