Supporting someone with a mental illness

Supporting someone with a mental illness

Supporting someone with a mental illness 1337 951 Alisha Gibbons

Seeing someone you love go through a mental illness can be heartbreaking, whether that be a good friend or a family member, it is hard to see someone suffering and even harder to know how you can help them. It has been found that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their life and so it is more than likely that you will know someone who has a mental health problem. Everyone can feel a little bit anxious or stressed at times, but when these feelings prolong and start to affect someone’s everyday life this is when it becomes a problem. Support is so important to the individual with the health issue, and letting them know you are there for them can be a vital part of their recovery. 

There is not a strict set of instructions to follow when overcoming a mental illness, and thus no one way of supporting an individual. Every person is unique and so is every mental health problem. 

As the topic of mental health is sometimes sensitive, it is hard to know where to start when supporting someone or telling someone you can see they are struggling. This is even harder for the individual and admitting that they have a problem can be a massive barrier for many people. By making the first move to let them know you see their struggles and are there for them can make them feel a huge relief, the pressure of telling someone is removed and they will hopefully feel like they can be open and be vulnerable with you. Even small things like spending time with them, watching a film together, cooking or going for a walk, these activities may make them feel more at ease, take their mind off their struggles and allow for natural discussions to occur. 

It can be hard knowing where to start when supporting an individual with any mental health problem, this blog post will discuss some of the many ways you can support someone and hopefully help them recover. 


Talking is so important in supporting someone with a mental health problem. It can allow you to have a greater understanding of how they are feeling, and for the individual may be the only time they fully acknowledge that they have a problem and are able to attempt to confront it. Be sure to constantly reassure them that you are there to help them and that they are strong enough to recover from their illness. 

When having the conversation allocate time for it, with no distractions and no judgement, this will set a relaxing and open tone for the conversation making you both feel comfortable and able to speak freely. Additionally, ask open-ended questions, use ‘how’ ‘what’ ‘where’ at the beginning of your questions, this allows the individual to answer with fuller questions which may be vital in you learning about their illness, their triggers and their struggles.

 Let them share as much or as little as they are comfortable with, like stated above, talking about a mental illness in general, but especially as the person recovering is tough. If one day they do not want to discuss it and be distracted, that is ok. Recovery is a long process and taking small steps can be more effective in the long term.

It goes without saying but make sure to actively listen to the person, do not cut them off mid sentence and do not dismiss anything they say, if something feels important to them then it is important to their illness and therefore their recovery. Try repeating what they say, this will help you remember your conversation more and will show them you are listening fully. Be patient during conversations, especially if they are having a particularly bad day. Discussing their illness, reassuring them and listening fully will show the person you are committed to supporting them, make them feel valued and that they are not alone in their recovery process. 

Learn About the Illness

Something that is very important when supporting someone with a mental health problem is understanding their illness as much as you can. This will help you understand how their illness affects them, how they may be feeling, what may be causing their illness, their triggers, and ways they can recover. It will help you sympathise with the individual more and be able to support them more effectively. You can learn lots about different mental health problems online from reputable sources, like charity organisations or even through television documentaries and factual programmes. There are lots of ways with today’s technology to find information instantly, another way is using social media, reaching out to others who have either had the same mental illness as the person you are supporting or have had the illness and recovered from it themselves. They may be able to support you, give you strategies to use and discuss their experience allowing you to learn about the illness from a first-hand perspective. Being knowledgeable about this illness will help you be a more confident support to the individual and be able to feel like you are truly making a difference. 

Independence and Goals

Though you are supporting a person with their mental health journey, they need to be encouraged to make their own decisions. If you pressure them for example, forcing them to get professional help when they are not ready, this could actually have the opposite effect and make them have even bigger struggles with their illness. They need to be the one to decide to get further help if they need it, as when the individual decides to see a professional they will feel more in control of their illness, they have decided that in order to recover they need to see a professional, they will be more determined to beat their illness and in turn hopefully have a more successful recovery. They need to feel in control of their illness, not their illness in control of them. 

Of course, when just starting to support someone, you may feel like them making the decision to see a professional seems far away, however you can encourage them to make smaller decisions in their everyday life which may, in turn, lead to these big decisions. Making small decisions daily will allow the individual to feel more in control of their life and their situation, letting them control what they eat that day, what they do and where they go, once they feel comfortable with making decisions about their everyday life it is more likely they will feel the confidence to make decisions about bigger aspects of their illness such as professional help, telling more people about their struggles and making goals for themselves to work towards. 

On this topic during recovery, it is important to get the individual to be aware of their own skills and attributes and set goals for themselves to work towards. When suffering from a mental health problem you may feel like everything is out of control, you may even feel like you can’t do anything about them and that you don’t have anything to offer, you don’t think positively about the future as all you can see is your mental illness. This is why it is important to make sure the individual understands that they are in control, they have things they are good at, they have hobbies and they have people that care about them, they are not defined by their illness. Setting goals is a good way for them to see a positive future for themselves, they can see their life without their mental illness and have set goals of how they can achieve that.

Look After Yourself

It can be very easy when supporting someone with their mental health, that you forget about your own. You have to look after yourself in order for you to be the best support for them. Recovering can be very stressful, difficult and often draining, all you want for the individual is for them to be instantly better but recovery is a long process, it doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t be with them all of the time and you shouldn’t feel guilty if a particular technique you are trying isn’t working straight away. Just you letting them know that you are there for them, you want to help them and they can be honest with their illness around you is a massive support. Make sure to set aside time for yourself doing things you enjoy and relaxing, making sure you yourself are good and healthy will have such a positive effect on the support you provide. You are doing the best you can and believe in your efforts. 

Supporting someone through their mental illness can have a big impact on their recovery success, it will make them feel less alone, allow them to be open and honest with someone about what they are going through and hopefully, one day allow them to live a life free from their mental illness. 

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Alisha Gibbons

Alisha has extensively written on mental health conditions. A blogger with a passion to spread the awareness of mental health. She contributes blogs on the Mindsum website and is a part of the content team.

All stories by : Alisha Gibbons

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