The other day, a friend of mine asked me how she could help a friend of hers that was mentally ill.
She explained to me that her friend had bipolar disorder, something she had been suffering from for years and had a long history of self-injury and suicide attempts.
According to my friend, this person was currently in a deep depression and posting dark posts on Facebook including some alarming ones such as wanting to give away her pets (giving away possessions is often associated with suicidal thoughts).
She wanted to know what should she do or say to her to make her “feel better” and I told her that there was no magic word or act she could to that would just bring her out of her current mental state. It’s like trying to help a friend who has a serious medical condition. You can help alleviate the pain, maybe make them feel more comfortable, but there is nothing you can actually do that will just cure the person of the condition.
Many people think they can or should be able to, and thus get very frustrated with themselves and/or the person they are trying to help when the reality hits that it’s just not that simple. The best thing you can do, and what I told my friend to do is to be a support system for her friend and show her love. Let her see that she has a friend who is going to stand by her side no matter what.
People suffering from a mental illness often feel broken, unlovable and fear that people will abandon them if they can’t keep it together. The best gift you can give them is showing support and love. There are no magic words or acts, but you may be surprised how a simple walk around the park talking about nothing in particular or just being present with that person, can have huge positive effects.
Many people who want to help someone they love who has a mental illness often don’t do that because as simple as it sounds, it can actually be quite difficult to actually sit with and be present with someone instead of lecturing, ordering and dictating to them what they should or need to be doing. That’s why actually just being with them, showing love and support can be such a precious gift.
Also, you may need your own support system to help yourself while helping someone you love and that’s okay. There are many support groups tailored towards supporting loved ones of people with various illnesses including mental illnesses.
You may also need to make appropriate boundaries so that you don’t become overwhelmed and exhausted. Don’ try to be a superhero, you are only one person so do what you can when you can, but don’t feel obligated to do everything.
However you choose to support your loved one who has a mental illness is a blessing. They may not be able to tell you that or appreciate it right away. Your support doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be effective You are doing what few people do, which is showing support and love instead of ignoring or stigmatizing.
- Learn about their illness. It’s easier to help and support someone with any illness when you have some information and insight about what they are going through. My friend who wants to support her friend with bipolar disorder actually had no working knowledge of the disorder.
- Let them know that they are not broken or defective and that they are the same person they have always been, they are just suffering from an illness, but they are NOT their illness.
- Help them if you can to get to their appointments, make sure they are taking their medications and actually talking to their doctors and/or other mental health professionals. That help can come from driving them to their appointments to simply reminding them to take their medication or to go to their appointments.
- Show and tell them that you love them and that you are there for them through thick and thin.
- Ask them what they need. Don’t just assume. The person who is sick generally knows what is best for them. They may need you to help clean the house or bring them dinner if they are too sick to do so.
- Check in with them, make sure that they are okay and following their treatment plan. This not only helps keep them accountable and responsible, but it also serves as a reminder that they have someone who cares about them