Mental Illness Tips: How to Be An Effective Supporter

Yesterday I spoke with a friend of mine that was having a rough time with personal relationships and finances. She suffers from mental disorders as well, which as many of you know can play into the phenomenon known as suicidal ideation.

Well, I had to do a great deal to make sure she was calmed as a result of someone on a suicide hotline gas lighting her experiences and emotions. She was told that she was working herself up over nothing, that she has options that she’s choosing to ignore, that it’s all in her head and she needs to just get over it, etc. Basically things that no professional working for a suicide prevention hotline should ever say.

And so as a person who has loved ones go through tough times, and as a person who deals with mental illness, I wanted to make a post to raise awareness about what to say and what not to say to someone who is suffering from mental illness of any kind and reaches out for help, especially if they are having thoughts of suicide.

What NOT to say:
(1)–“I know you are going through something, but it doesn’t help the situation if you always dwell on it. You need to just be happy.”
(2)–“Things are not as bad as you are making them out to be.”
(3)–“I think you are remembering things wrong” (often said to people with PTSD, believe it or not).
(4)–“I don’t believe you are actually suffering from XYZ. You look fine to me.”
(5)–“You just need to get over it. You’re bumming everyone out.”
(6)–“The best way to get over XYZ is to just grow up and face your fears.”
(7)–“Stop crying. You’re just making it worse.”
(8)–“I think you’re just taking everything too personal.”
(9)–Don’t just start rattling off all of this advice on how they can make all of their problems go away and get happy quickly. Many mental illnesses are lifelong ailments that need professional treatment. Statements like “just get a different job”, “just cut everybody off”, and “just move on” don’t help at all.
(10)–“You just need to go see a doctor” (understand that a lot of people do not have health insurance, and so many resources that they need are not available to them).

What to say/do:
(1)–When they need to talk, shut up and listen to them. Don’t invalidate their statements. Don’t tell them to buck up and get over it. Don’t start talking about yourself and your problems. People call help lines because they typically need to vent and need someone to hear them out.
(2)–Educate yourself on what it means to actively listen to people when they need someone to talk to.
(3)–Don’t, in any way by any means, start calling them crazy for what they are feeling and going through. Validate their emotions.
(4)–Be there for them when they need someone. You don’t have to give them a bunch of physical resources, but just be a person they can trust when they need an ear or to lead them to professionals who can help them if you are unable to. Usually hotlines are helpful. If one doesn’t work, try to find a different one that will.
(5)–If someone in your life has a mental illness, be actively supportive by educating yourself on what it means to have that illness and what those people go through on a daily basis. Many forums have tips for supporters on what they can do to help their loved ones.
(6)–Follow up with them periodically to see how they are feeling. It’s nice to know people care about what someone is going through.