21 Ways to Be a Good Friend for Someone With a Mental Illness

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Friendships can be vital for getting through the hard times life inevitably throws at us. If you need to cry, laugh or forget about your worries for a little while, friends are an important support system. For those who live with mental illnesses, this social support can be especially important. Friends keep us grounded and can provide the connection we need to remind us we’re worth having around.

We asked people in our community who live with mental illnesses to tell us what makes a good friend. If you’re a friend of someone who has a mental illness, their answer might provide some insight.

Here’s what they told us: 

1. “Give me a hug and let me vent. Sometimes that’s the best thing someone can do.” — Abigayle Petty

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2. “Just treat me the way you did before I became ill.” — Denise Cochrane

3. “Don’t tell me to put my big girl panties, but do tell me you support me and love me anyway.” — Andrea Heer

4. “Just calling to ask how I’m doing means a great deal.” — Winona O’Reilly

5. “Don’t confuse my humor, joy, wit or intelligence as symptoms of my illness.” — Rebecca Chamaa

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6. “Listen, provide support and understanding. Don’t be judgmental.” — Denise Marie Wilder

7. “Ask me what I need, and give time when the answer is ‘I don’t know.’” — Beth Ann Morhardt

8. “Help destigmatize. Be mindful of your language choices, privately and publicly.” — Sarah Clark

9. “Please be willing to try and ride the waves with me. Just meet me where I’m at… whether I’m up or down, don’t leave me.” — Miranda Tymoschuk

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10. “My husband is a prime example. He gives me space to have my small freak outs, but is always there when I cling to him. It’s all about what they need and want at the time. It makes a huge difference” — Marcus Wattson

11. “The biggest support for me is to be validated. Let me know it’s OK to feel this way. I’ll be here for you and promise not to fix you, but to support you.” — Melissa Fryburger-Long

12. “Come to my side to help. Social media is great, but good old fashioned face time is what I need. Pull me out of my cave and keep me moving!” — Michelle Balck

13.Don’t try to ‘fix’ me — that’s my job. But encouragement and moral support? That is what I need most.” — Selena Marie Wilson 

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14. “I would say just be there. Listen. You don’t necessarily need to understand, but being open minded is always a plus. And comfort, give hugs, let me cry even if it sounds ridiculous. What I’m crying about isn’t ridiculous to me.” — Nikki Ronnenberg

15. “I know that standing by watching someone suffer can be a lot to handle, but the best thing a friend can do is to keep being my friend and not let the mental illness come between us.” — Kimberly Edwards

16. “Educate yourself. You don’t need to understand everything or even why it’s happening, but a little knowledge can go a long way when it comes to support. Don’t shut down when I talk about the dark parts; I already feel bad enough. And reassure me you’ll be there at the end.” — Paige Alyssa O’Connor

17.Understand that sometimes I can’t hang out, but not because I don’t want to. Accept that it’s in fact an illness and I’m not making an excuse.” — Shannon Trevino

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18. “My friends are great because nothing fazes them. When I return home from months in the hospital, they treat me like I’ve never been away.” — Jenny Bridger

19. “Continue to be my friend, and be there for me. Recognize I might need more support, or space, or just someone to listen and be present with me, but that ultimately knowing you’re there and having your friendship is the best support. The difficult feelings will pass — remind me of that — but most of all be there, listen and remind me that our friendship will still be there after a difficult time.” — Lucy Ingram

20. “Tell me I’m not a burden to you. Because I feel like I’m dragging you down with me when I pick up the phone and say I’m hurting, struggling or need some one to reach out to.” — MK Knight

21. “I love when I can laugh with my friends. For a while I forget all about my depression and anxiety.” — MK Knight

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*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

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3 Things the Church Can Do for People With Mental Illness

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It’s no secret at this point I suffer from bipolar disorder and anxiety. The reason I’m so open about it is because that’s the only way we’re ever going to break the stigma of mental illness (and trust me, there’s still a stigma). But having a mental illness is only a part of who I am.

I also love the church. I love the idea of a universal group of people coming together in mutual love of God, Jesus and other people. The church should be a safe place, where every broken person is welcomed and healing can begin. But I’ve heard a lot of stories of the church hurting people with mental illness. In reaction to these stories, not all of which are my own experience, here’s a list of things the church can do to help those who live with a mental illness.

1. Talk about it.

In my experience, the church has a terrible habit of not talking about things. Mental illness is no exception. When I was first diagnosed, I thought I was one of the only people I knew who suffered from bipolar disorder. This silence creates a culture of shame and fear around mental illness. It makes people feel like they are alone, and that they have no one to talk to.

However, when I started getting honest about my struggles, other people were honest with me. Believe me, there are more people than you would think, within the church, who have a mental illness. And it would make them feel much safer if they knew that the church was a safe place to talk about it.

This doesn’t just mean people with mental illnesses need to talk about them. It’s everyone’s responsibility to begin healthy conversations about it. Maybe this means hosting a workshop to teach people Mental Health First Aid. Maybe this means the pastor preaches about mental illness. Maybe this means collectively learning more about mental illnesses and debunking myths. Whatever it looks like, it is so important that the church begins a conversation on mental illness.

2. Ask people how you can help.

So someone at your church opens up about having a mental illness. What next? Ask them how you can help. And accept if they don’t have an answer right away. Let them know they can come to you in a time of need and that you’ll be there for them. Don’t push a person’s illness to the side and pretend like it doesn’t exist. A mental illness can be a huge part of someone’s life.

3. Challenge the stigma.

This one is a little harder, but still necessary. The church, as a group of people, needs to directly challenge the stigma they see and hear. Whether that’s speaking out against a friend’s distasteful joke, taking to social media to challenge the media’s portrayal of mental illness, or researching these illnesses to have a better idea of what it’s really like to live with them, it’s the church’s job to stand up for those who are hurting.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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16 Things People With Mental Illness Want to Tell the Next President

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When the next U.S. president gets inaugurated next January, he or she will have an agenda and a vision for what our country needs. While there are plenty of issues to go around, mental health is rarely considered a “hot button” issue. In fact, it seems to only be brought up in the political sphere after a tragic shooting — leaving most of the 43.8 million Americans who live with a mental illness out of the conversation.

To get that conversation going, we asked people in our Mighty community living with mental illnesses to tell us one message they have for the next U.S. president.

Here’s what they want the future president to know:

1. “You have a powerful voice. Use your voice for good, not to perpetuate stigma and hate. Mental illness is not just a talking point or shorthand to insult people. Your opponent is not mentally ill for disagreeing with you. A flip-flopper is not bipolar. Mental illness affects 1 in 5 Americans. Your public. The people who you have taken an oath to preserve, protect and defend. Preserve us. Protect us. Defend us. All of us. Fund research. Fund programs. Get Americans the help we need, whether we have insurance or money or not. This is a matter of life and death. Save American lives. Make mental illness a priority.” — Danielle Hark

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2. “Healthcare is a human right. Mental health issues are health issues and coverage for mental heath treatment needs to be included when we talk about healthcare.” — Kim Shilakes

3. “Stop using people with mental illness as a scapegoat when it comes to gun violence. We are much more likely to be the victims of violence.” — Sonia Faith

4. “The mental health system is extremely broken and needs a lot of care right now. Cheaper providers, medications, better hospitals, more research and more education for the entire nation. There is so much stigma attached to mental illness because people don’t understand it. And this won’t change unless people in the government step up.” — Kimberly Labine

5. “Mental health needs to be viewed as equally important as physical health.” — Sherrie Tyler

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6. “It’s time to stop shoving mental illness into a dark closet — it’s time to actively end the stigma and give sufferers opportunities to get the best help they can. It’s not a joking matter, never has been.” — Ashley David Stevens

7. “If you care about citizens living with mental illness and want to help the state of mental health in America, please stop using stigmatizing language. Calling someone “crazy” or explicitly stating they have a mental illness contributes to the problems we all want to solve. People don’t seek help as much when mental illness is equated with being a bad person. Our conditions are serious health issues, not the butt of jokes.” — Nicole Campbell

8. “Please make mental healthcare and medication affordable! I had to forego my psych appointment and thereby my psych meds this month because I just don’t have enough money. I don’t qualify for benefits, but I don’t make enough money to buy insurance, so everything is self-pay. Due to this disaster, I may end up hospitalized.” — Terrie Karp

9. “Don’t wait until the next tragedy to talk about mental health and mental illness.” — Allison DeLuca

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10. “The majority of those with mental illness do not want to be a burden on society; we want to be productive members of society. But if we can’t work due to our issues, we rely on the system to get us stable again. Please understand that if there is a chemical imbalance in the brain, it affects the whole body. But when we get the help to heal our brains, the body usually follows suit.” — Dena Rigby

11. “Mental illness should not have to be whispered about or talked about behind closed doors. It is an illness like any physical illness, and we deserve to be treated as such. Please help us in our daily fight instead of making things harder by ignoring us!” — Caitlin Hoechst

12. “When you talk about diversity and bringing people together, don’t forget about people with disabilties or mental illnesses. It makes me feel unimportant.” — Kristie Carlsen

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13. “Mental health needs more funds for training for the police, parents, teachers and public agencies to help prevent tragedies.” — Montgomery Diaz

14. “People shouldn’t have to end up in prison to get treatment! Get this system right once and for all!” — Stephanie Aveytia

15. “I matter.” — Jenna Swearingen Hatfield

16. “Stand up and show people that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.” — Celina Pulenskey

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*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

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To My Friend Having a Bad Mental Health Day

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Hi there,

I see that you’re having one of those days. Hard to get out of bed. Difficult to concentrate. Painful to smile. 

I’ve been there.

Mary getting ready for her 1-year multiple sclerosis check-up and MRI
Mary getting ready for her 1-year multiple sclerosis check-up and MRI

Moving through the fog of self-doubt and maybe self-chastisement, the day slows, and all those nagging thoughts are given room to bloom — Why am I not happy? Why can’t I move? Why do I feel stuck? Am I the only one?

Maybe you’ve had downer days before, or maybe this is a new reality.  It hurts either way. 

The hardest thing to see is the way out. The second hardest thing to understand is that this is not permanent. 

Each of us may be served tricky mental health days differently — the sensations and severity may vary widely — but don’t let yourself believe you don’t deserve to feel better. There are ways. The mind is a beautiful puzzle of neurotransmitters, synapses, hormones and messages of all sorts being sent around, all trying to work in harmony. There are tools available to help our beautiful minds thrive, and to reach that seemly elusive state of happiness or stability.

Sometimes searching so hard to get out of the darkness, we forget about the ways little rays of light could come to meet us, such as through music or meditation. Meditation helped lead me to shed fears. Sometimes even a new sleep schedule can help; sleep affects hormones, and hormones affect how we feel. And if insomnia is as much of a problem for you as it was for me, let me say again — meditation. But you can find other little things that work for you.

When we’re stuck in the quicksand of a down day, everything is hard. I know. Gentle lifestyle changes may not be “cures,” but let’s not worry about “cures” right now. Let’s just look for ways to get your light shining again. Even for one hour of one day. Because you deserve it. 

And please, please believe me when I say — there will be light. It’s there. And I’ll stay with you until we get there.   

I know, fellow warrior, that it’s just all so much. But you are definitely not alone. Let’s lean on each other, sharing in the joys and in the pain. We are in this together — stumbling through the dark, finding a way to shine.

Love,
Mary

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Mary meditating

What helps you feel better on your “down days”? Share it with the community, and maybe you’ll help bring a little light to someone else’s day!

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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22 Things People With Mental Illness Wish Their Parents Knew

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When a child scrapes his knee, mom’s there with a Band-Aid. When a child falls ill, dad’s there with chicken soup. But what does a parent do when they can’t kiss the pain away?

Watching your child develop a mental illness — especially if you’re unfamiliar with the signs — can be confusing and rough for the whole family. For parents, it can be frustrating not knowing what to do, what to say or how to make it all better.

We asked people in our community who live with a mental illness to tell us one thing they wish their parents understood.

Here’s what they want parents to know:

1. “Your support and understanding are everything to me. I am in awe of the lengths you have gone to to try and get answers. And even when those answers didn’t come you still haven’t given up on me, even when I want to give up on myself!”

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2. “I would tell my parents (and have told them) that even though I have an illness, I still love them. They didn’t do this to me, and it wasn’t their fault. There’s probably nothing they could have don’t to have prevented it. Nature made me who I am biologically… but they made me the wonderful and caring human being that I am, as well.”

3. “Sometimes, I just feel crap. I don’t always have a explanation as to why so when you ask me, I cannot always answer. I know you want to help, but, as hard as it may be, you sometimes just have to sit back. I will get through this. I don’t know how and I don’t know when… but one day I will.”

4. “I want them to know how thankful I am for their support. It took them a while to get to that place, but I’m grateful. They took me to many appointments and paid for so many medications.”

5. “I know that you feel like you should be able to help somehow, but it isn’t up to you — medication and therapy in addition to your unconditional love and support is the best thing for me.”

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6. “I’m not doing this on purpose. This isn’t some attempt at rebellion, or a guilt trip or me trying to punish you. This is part of me, and it’s harder to deal with than you realize.”

7. “Thank you for being there for me even though it took some time to digest my illness. I appreciate all the kindness and love when I was in my darkest days. You pulled me though more than you’ll ever know.”

8. “I do not blame you for any of the problems we had when we were trying to navigate our way through my diagnoses. You guys learned all you could in a time before the Internet had the answers and before self-helps books were readily available. You were not bad parents just because you could not fix what was going on in me. You got me help, again, and again, and again and it’s OK it took more than one try to find the right person to help me because along the way I had two people who didn’t give up.”

9. “It’s not a parent’s job to fix their child (there are doctors for that). It’s a parent’s job to love, support and encourage their child so they feel a little less broken and alone.

10. “Don’t be ashamed of me. I do the best I can. It has just gotten harder getting older.”

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11. “I need someone to reassure me. I have so many doubts. I feel worthless. I feel depressed, despaired, numb. Please don’t tell me I’m not doing anything with my life. I need someone to be there for me. I need someone to tell me I’m doing everything I can to heal. I’m doing everything I can to recover. Please tell me you’re proud of me.”

12. “It’s real and it is exhausting. I wish I could be more open with you, but you can’t understand.”

13. “I know you feel helpless. I understand your feelings. But there are a lot of things you can help me with and be supportive. Sometimes practical things like going shopping for or with me can be great. Sometimes I just need someone to talk to. Or I need someone to hug me. Or I need someone to tell me that everything is going to be OK. You being supportive is really really important to me.

14. “Thank you for putting up with my roller coaster. Know that I loved you very, very much, even at my worst moments.”

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15. “You did not do anything wrong in raising me, Mom. And I will overcome this illness and be a productive member of society again one day. I just need time to let my body and soul heal. I love you more than you know for your love and support.”

16. “I love you and appreciate all that you have supported me through. Just please continue to do so, but don’t freak out if I tell you I’m going through a rough patch. When you worry about me so much, I get even more anxious and upset.”

17. “I was diagnosed as an adult. My mom was wracked with guilt. I did tell her, yes, this has been a part of me all my life. This anxiety was why I never had friends, got into trouble or went to dances like others did. No, it was not your fault. None of this is the fault of anything. It simply is what and who I am. Laying blame would be easy but wouldn’t help me one bit. The truth is that this is simply my obstacle in life, nothing more. If anything, by never pushing me, by not asking me to do the things I avoided but were ‘normal,’ you helped me immeasurably by allowing me to figure out my own ways of coping. Thank you for that. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen my mom cry, but it was the first time is seen her smile while doing it.”

18. “Mom and Dad, I wish you would’ve taken this seriously and got me the help I asked for. You’re my family, and I can’t count on you.”

19. “The most important thing you can do for me is to be supportive of the treatment plan I have chosen. Even though I still have bad days, it does not mean I’m going to give up. I appreciate you and your wisdom, but I also have to find my way.”

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20. “I don’t always have control over my emotions or reactions. I try my best to stay in control, but it’s hard to constantly fight a battle I feel like I’m losing.”

21. “Mom and Dad, thank you so much for all you have done, for all you will do and for the love you have given me. You care for me in many ways — ways that allow me to still have an active life. I wish there was a way you didn’t have to help me financially. I am grateful for all you do, but most of all I’m grateful for the love you give me every day!”

22. “It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.”

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*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

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Figuring Out How to Discipline When Your Child Has a Mental Illness

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Your kid is acting out. Parenting experts tell you to course correct your child at that very moment. So you send Johnny to his room or Bridget leaves the birthday party early. It isn’t fun or even easy but you must discipline them for their poor behavior.

When my daughter was 11 years old she melted down at her best friend’s birthday party thrashing about on the ground like a toddler having a tantrum. The other children were terrorized, their moms shielded them. As I poured a sobbing Bridget into my car, my head was hanging low, knowing those moms will spend the rest of the party discussing my parenting skills and Bridget’s nature.

Bridget isn’t evil; sometimes she gets overwhelmed by too much stimulation and acts out. Within moments of her meltdown she is back to being a cheerful little girl.

Johnny lost it because he saw the peas touching the potatoes on the plate. The plate went sailing across the room and hit the cat. The whole family is in chaos, the night is ruined and you are in tears.

Johnny wasn’t being a jerk. Johnny’s obsessive compulsive disorder kicked in, and he was fighting for his life. Peas and potatoes triggered his flight-or-fight adrenal system, and he did what you would have done if you saw a snake on your plate.

But you know what? Sometimes Johnny is a jerk, just like any 12-year boy can be. And Bridget can manipulate a situation to get what she wants, just like any 9-year old girl can.

So, how can you tell the difference? I have been walking this line for 14 years, and I still haven’t figured it out. Often I can see it in their body language or their eyes.  Sometimes when my daughter is overwhelmed with anxiety, she will get a far away look in her eyes and her body will stiffen.

But have I ever enabled her bad behavior, blaming it on her mental illness? You bet. Have I lost my cool when she was in the throes of a meltdown? Oh yeah.

The rules keep changing (the hormone years!), but I have learned a few tricks and strategies along the way.

1. I don’t try to talk rationally when they are having a hard time. Johnny cannot begin to explain why peas and potatoes shouldn’t touch. When things are calmer, I strategize with him on ways to prevent such an outburst in the future.

2. I validate their experiences. “I see you are really struggling right now,” can go a long way in letting them know you are on their side.

3. I maintain my cool, if possible. Yelling or threatening would have only escalated Bridget’s instability at the party. And I never want to model yelling as a way of getting what you want.

4. I show them unconditional love in the way I know they will understand. For some kids, it’s a hug and a cuddle or alone time with you. But you know what makes your child smile. Wait until things have normalized, though.

5. I don’t pretend it never happened. I believe that just because they couldn’t help themselves doesn’t mean they shouldn’t know how their actions had an impact on others. I discuss how it made me feel, or ask the how they thought it made others feel.

Your ace in the hole? The love you have for your child. There will be days you will win and days you will lose, so be gentle with yourself – you are doing the best you can.

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