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How to Help a Friend Or Loved One With a Mental Illness

It could be depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia or any other disorder. It could be really obvious or like a well-kept secret that has been slowly building up. Mental health illnesses come in many shapes, presentations and each of them can leave a permanent impression on the patients and those closest to them. Mental health disorders are, also, very common now. According to the World Health Organization, mental disorders affect one in four people in the world.

Around 450 million people currently suffer from them, and only two-thirds of this population are able to seek the help they need. This is because, unfortunately, discussing mental health issues still has a stigma attached to it in most parts of the world. While it should be treated like any other medical issue, it isn’t. This is one of the main reasons why many patients find it difficult to seek help and their friends or family members are often unable to give any either.

How to know that your friend needs help

It’s therefore very important to raise awareness about mental health issues, learn how to identify signs of different disorders in people around you, and understand the best methods to provide them with the help they need. Knowing who needs help is the most difficult part here because it’s not necessary that there’ll be any obvious signs of mental health issues.

You need to be aware of both the overt and covert symptoms of mental illnesses, including ones like withdrawal from society, increase in risk-taking behaviours, severe mood swings and abuse of alcohol or drugs. If you know your friend well enough, these changes will be easier to pick up on. If you can’t see any obvious signs but still have a gut-feeling, talk to them anyway. It’s good to check in with and confide in friends from time to time, even just to maintain good mental health.

Steps you can take to help your friend

Once you have noticed such changes in your friend or loved one, you should proceed with the utmost respect and sensitivity you can muster. If you’re unsure about your reading of the situation, connect with someone you trust to be able to and willing to provide support. This could be a mutual friend, someone who’s had similar experiences, or a professional. The following are the steps you can take to support your friend in need.

1. Propose a talk: Set aside a time for yourself and your friend to talk without distractions. Assure them from the get-go that this is an open and safe space without any judgements.

2. Listen well: Let your friend share their feelings and problems without putting any pressure or compulsion. Opening up takes a lot of encouragement and trust, and you might even be the first person they’re sharing their issues with. So, listen carefully and attentively while making sure your body language is friendly and open.

3. Don’t second guess: If your friend feels certain things like guilt, shame or fear, don’t try to talk them down or out of these feelings. Such emotions are probably very real for them and feeding their mental health issue’s severity. Don’t make assumptions, jump to conclusions, try to diagnose the problem or suggest solutions. Your suggestions might be well-meaning but remember that you’re a friend and not a mental health expert.

4. Be neutral: Don’t be pushy or make your friend feel that you’re intruding in a space where you’re not welcome. Ask open-ended questions like “How are you feeling?” rather than pointed, intrusive questions like “I can see you’re very low these days, so what’s that about?”.

5. Make plans: Exercise, meditation, dance classes, getting a massage, attending a festival and eating healthy are all stress-busting activities that promote good mental and overall health. Make plans with your friend to engage in such activities. It’s likely they might not feel like getting involved the first time you ask, but a little encouragement and the very act of you asking them out might improve their condition.

6. Check-in regularly: Having a big talk one day is not going to magically cure your friend. You need to converse with them regularly and assure them that you’re there whenever they need you. Being impatient or snapping might make them retreat back into a shell, so don’t do either. Even consistently being there for them can’t guarantee any improvement, so don’t do it with any expectations.

7. Help get help: Getting professional help for mental health disorders is vital, and you can offer to help your friend get appointments, accompany them to the doctor’s, and support them through their recommended therapy. Don’t force therapy on them (it’s not your place to), but help them come to the decision to get help without taking control away from them.

For more information, read our article on Mental illness.

Health articles on News18 are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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