How Can You Help Someone With a Mental Health Issue?


Depression comes at us with a one-two punch from every angle in life, whether it’s affecting someone we know or we’re experiencing it ourselves.

With an estimated 54 million Americans struggling with some form of mental disorder in a given year, we can’t just throw a pillow over our heads and hide. No one chooses depression. No one wants to be considered ill. No one wants to be stigmatized by society — a society which is ironically filled with depressed people.

Depression’s symptoms can last for days, weeks and months, and include feelings of hopelessness, rejection, poor concentration, sleep problems, lack of energy and sometimes suicidal thoughts. The good news is it’s treatable and life does get better with the correct tools, effort, support and many times medication.

Part of the problem is a lot of families are not prepared to deal with the effects of depression in a loved one. It may be emotionally exhausting to deal with. The onus is ultimately on the person with depression to get help, but having a good support system is widely undervalued.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, what are some ways you can you support a loved one with mental health problems?

Recognize warning signs

People with depression don’t typically want to admit they are having problems, so they tend to isolate as much as possible. Sometimes the clues are subtle and take time to reveal themselves. Other times, the warning signs are right in front of our noses.

They may not want to socialize or partake in their usual activities because the thought of it is exhausting. The growing inability to cope with life’s daily activities and problems becomes evident when the person can’t seem to bring themselves to do simple tasks. They tend to worry excessively, or may be overly angry. Substance abuse, including smoking, drinking and prescription drugs, is another sign of depression. A substance abuse counselor may be necessary at this point.

In some cases, people with mental illness hear voices, see things, or have strange thoughts or delusions. Suicidal thoughts are another obvious sign of depression.

In the past, when I’ve been depressed, I couldn’t find the energy to take my dog out for his morning walk. It’s really depressing when you can’t muster enough strength to tend to the needs of the one living creature who depends on you most.

Offer help

If you think or know your loved one is struggling with depression, ask them what you can do to support without sounding “preachy,” or like you have the best answer. Encourage them to get help, even if that help is rejected.

You may not know what the best answer is, and you may give advice that the person doesn’t take. You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re walking on eggshells around that person. Keep it simple: Just be there and ask what you can do.

Be compassionate

No one wants to feel like they are going through life alone. Be there to hold their hand when they cry or tell them they are loved and needed in this world of ours. It’s easy to get impatient and frustrated with someone struggling with depression.

Being there in person without trying to fix anything goes a long way in showing someone you care. So does listening without judgment. Keep in mind that depression is extremely painful to go through and talk about. It will probably take multiple conversations because the needs of a depressed person will shift as time goes on. There’s not a straight line of recovery.

Take good care of yourself. You are not your loved one’s therapist. Set boundaries for yourself, don’t let resentment build and keep communication open. Maybe you need to join your own support group or see a counselor. Shouldering someone else’s problems can be tough. Focus on your own emotions and feelings.

Suicide risk

Seek immediate assistance if you think a family member or friend is in danger of harming themselves. Call a crisis line, like the National Suicide Prevention line at 1 800-273-TALK, or 911.

One of the groups most at risk for suicide is the mentally ill. The relationship between those struggling with mental illness or mood disorders and suicide is intertwined. There’s an extremely fine line between thinking suicidal thoughts and acting upon them. Someone who is entertaining thoughts of ending their life or how they can kill themselves or how the world would be a better place without them in it – even if they aren’t verbalizing it – need immediate help. If you think a friend or family member is in need of community mental health services you can find help in your area.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Unsplash photo via Korney Violin


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