When Someone Needs Your Support
Supportive friends can play an important role in the mental health recovery process. All too often, people respond negatively or dismissively when someone discloses that he/she has a mental health disorder. It is important to remember that mental health disorders are just as real as physical illnesses and that a person cannot just “snap out of it.” If you are unsure how to react when a friend tells you that he/she is struggling with a mental health disorder, it can be helpful to think about how you would react if that same friend told you that he/she had been diagnosed with a physical disorder like diabetes.
Below are some tips about how you may want to respond if a friend tells you that he/she has a mental health disorder:
Show your support. Express your concern and sympathy, talk openly and make sure that your friend knows that he/she is not alone. The most important thing you can do is just offer to be available.
Listen. If your friend talks about their mental health diagnosis, don’t change the subject.
Resist the temptation to give advice or dismiss their concerns.
If your friend discloses personal information, keep his/her trust by not sharing the information with others. The exception is talk about suicide. When suicide is mentioned, it’s time to tell a professional and get help! If you’re feeling overwhelmed by what he/she has told you, contacting CAPS or another helpline can be a good way to get advice while still keeping information confidential.
Ask what you can do to help. You can leave this open-ended (“I want to know how I can best support you.”) or suggest specific tasks that might be helpful (“Can I drive you to your appointment?”). If you know that your friend is struggling in school, it can be helpful just to offer to study with him/her.
Ask if your friend is getting the treatment that she/he wants and needs. If not, offer to find out about available resources and help your friend find effective care.
Reassure your friend that you still care about him/her.
Many people with mental health disorders tend to withdraw from family and friends.
Continue to invite your friend to go to dinner, study, talk, or just hang out.
Even if he/she doesn’t always feel like talking or spending time together, it can be a comfort just to know that he/she has friends that care.
Educate yourself about your friend’s disorder. This can help you to know what to expect. Click for more information on:
Certain strategies, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising can be helpful when managing one’s mental health.
Know that alcohol and other drugs interfere with most psychiatric medications, making them less effective and, in some cases, dangerous.
Click here for resources if you’re worried that a friend may be abusing alcohol or other drugs.
Take care of yourself. It can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming to take on the care of a friend.
Make sure not to get so involved that you forget to take care of yourself.
Take time for yourself. Make time to do something you find relaxing.
Call Counseling and Psychological Services if you feel like you could use some support.
Check out free support groups for families and friends of individuals with psychiatric disorders.
Not sure what to say? You’re not alone.
Statements of Support and encouragement, along with one important statement “ What can I do to help you”.
Never judgement or criticize, or tell them they will be alright, and walk away. Sometimes just sitting with them is all they need.
NEVER, try to shock them back to reality.
NEVER, say go ahead and kill yourself.
When you don’t know what to say, say nothing. Hold their hand, and just be with them.
Health and Wellness Associates
Dr. Anne Sullivan