The Easiest Way to Help a Loved One With a Mental Illness

I’ve had the unique, and unfortunate, opportunity of experiencing mental illness from three perspectives: as a student studying psychology, as a supportive and concerned friend and as a person with depression and anxiety. When you’re experiencing these illnesses, it’s difficult to vocalize exactly how you feel and how the people around you can help. So when asked to explain those things by well-meaning friends, I find myself flustered and at a loss for answers.

One afternoon over coffee with a friend, the topic of depression came up. My friend told me, extremely concerned, that she wasn’t sure what to say when someone confides in her about their mental health. This wasn’t the first time a friend had expressed that same concern. Her words, mixed with her worry, played on my mind until my next appointment with my psychologist. I explained to her the difficulty of talking openly about depression and anxiety when I knew how worrisome it was for those hearing it. I asked her what I was supposed to say when asked how to care for a friend with a mental illness. My psychologist posed a simple and concise question in response: how would you care for a friend who has the flu?

I don’t believe caring for a friend with a mental illness needs to be approached any differently than caring for a friend with a physical one. If your friend had the flu you wouldn’t think twice about checking in on them, cooking them dinner if they weren’t up to it or offering to keep them company even if they were too sick to talk. Why does it need to be any different for depression or anxiety?

The best way to help someone who is sick is just to be there for them, and let them know they aren’t alone and that you care. More often than not, people just want someone to listen and not judge. To know that someone is there for them while they recover. They aren’t expecting you to cure their flu.

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