“May is Mental Health Month, and while the month is drawing to a close, mental health issues worldwide are not. This key awareness and education event was designated in 2013 by President Barack Obama, and every year numerous mental health charities and organizations participate.
While for individuals who are not mentally ill it can be difficult to know how to support mentally ill friends and family members, Mental Health Month provides an excellent opportunity for talking about those issues. Here are eight ways you can help to support someone dealing with a mental health issue.
1. Fight stigma
Mental health stigma is a serious and ongoing concern in the United States. Be aware that roughly one in five people experiences mental illness at some point in life, and so someone in your family, office, or friendship group likely has a mental health condition. Be conscientious when you talk about mental health: Avoid stereotyping, don’t use slurs like “crazy” or “lunatic,” and don’t tolerate stigmatizing comments when people make them around you.
In the long term, fighting stigma makes it easier to create vitally needed policy changes to improve the way the United States handles mental health issues. In the short term, it makes mentally ill people around you feel more comfortable about opening up, coming out, and asking for help if they need it.
2. Be open
When mentally ill people disclose their illnesses, it can be a frightening experience. If someone approaches you to talk about her mental health condition, keep her relaxed and at ease. Make sure that you’re open and friendly, and don’t ask intrusive questions about her illness. Stress that you are available to support her and that you’re always around to talk, help connect her to resources, or assist her with problems she might be having.
3. Don’t out people
Being out and mentally ill can be dangerous: Mentally ill people may lose their jobs, be at risk for physical assault, or lose friends after the revelation of a diagnosis. Individual mentally ill people have the right to make decisions about when, where, and how they bring up their conditions with other people. If you are concerned about someone’s safety or well-being, approach a mental health professional—not a friend or family member—to discuss your worries and ask for advice.
4. Educate yourself!
If someone tells you she has a mental health condition, do some research so you understand how it works and what kinds of feelings she might be going through, especially if it’s a new diagnosis. By understanding the details and debunking myths about mental illness, you can be a more supportive friend or family member. Numerous resources are available on and offline to help people find information about mental health conditions.
5. Be empathetic
Sometimes mentally ill people behave in ways that don’t appear rational or logical to you—someone with anxiety might be very stressed about leaving the house, for example, or a person with depression might have a rough day and not be interested in chatting. Take their feelings and experiences seriously, even if they don’t make sense from your perspective, and provide support; don’t pressure people to “cheer up” or “get over it.” If someone’s anxious about leaving the house, for example, offer to drop by with some food so you can hang out and watch Netflix.
6. Know the difference between being a friend or family member and being a therapist
Many mentally ill people find it necessary or helpful to seek treatment, including therapy, medication, and other options. The people who provide such treatment are highly trained and paid professionals, often with years of experience in the mental health field. Even if you want to help your mentally ill loved ones, trying to be a therapist doesn’t help—friendship and familial love are important and play a role in mental health treatment, but they’re distinct from the role played by a mental health professional.
Professionals can provide a safe environment to explore treatment, discuss issues, develop tools for living, and more. Trying to offer these services as a friend can be alienating, frustrating, or dangerous—so relax, it’s okay to just be someone’s pal.
7. Know your resources
Though you shouldn’t try to replace a professional, you can help people connect with therapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals. Many people in mental health crisis or experiencing the onset of mental illness are confused, stressed, and in need of support from friends. You can offer to help people reach out: Offer to help make appointments, give rides, and assist in other ways so people can move forward with treatment.
8. Don’t endanger yourself
Self-care is important, so don’t overstretch yourself while you’re trying to be friendly and supportive. It won’t help you or your loved ones. Moreover, while most mentally ill people are not violent, the rare incidence of violent episodes can be dangerous—albeit primarily to the patient. Do not attempt to intervene in a suicide attempt or situation where someone has a weapon: Call a mental health crisis unit, the patient’s primary care provider, or the police if necessary.”
From “8 Ways to Help During Mental Health Month” By s.e. smith