How To Support Someone With A Mental Illness - Erin's Inside Job

How To Support Someone With A Mental Illness

The post How To Support Someone With A Mental Illness first appeared on Erin’s Inside Job in June 2018.

Here are some important tips on how to support someone with a mental illness. Don't just talk about it, be about it and make a change.

As I scrolled through social media this weekend following the news of the third in a list of celebrity suicides, I found myself becoming more and more annoyed as the day went on.

I was constantly being bombarded with a phone number that I never see except for one day following events like these, yet I, and many others, know how to Google it should it become a necessary option. I watched stories on Instagram about how it’s been a shitty week because two people died, but “at least the week will end on a happy note” here at my sponsored staycation! I immediately unfollowed that person.

I tried to think about what was making me so angry because I constantly advocate for a more transparent sharing of struggles and mental health issues and that was definitely happening. Then, thinking about it a little more, I realized it actually wasn’t.

What was happening was a variety of things — a need to say something to not appear insensitive, a comment to fulfill some type of social obligation and move on, and trying to connect to someone you didn’t really know but felt like you did.

I wondered how we could express our devastation and sadness, yet move on so quickly. I thought about those who have been closely affected by the untimely death of someone they knew and how I’m positive that they didn’t experience it and move on the next day. I still frequently think of a close friend who died in a car crash over 15 years ago. I literally thought of my high school choir teacher who died earlier this year of a heart attack every day until I finally allowed myself to cry about it.

Related: What To Say To Someone Who’s Grieving

We move on so quickly because we don’t actually have a connection to these people. We see the superficial and assume we know who they are and what happens behind the scenes. Because we think we know, this kind of news takes us by surprise, but once we realize that the connection we had was to a surface level media portrayal, we move on. It doesn’t affect us.

What I did appreciate seeing were tributes that explained what these people meant to others and how they changed their view on fashion, music, travel, food, and anything else they brought into the lives of others. It was evident in those posts that it was more than just the person they were mourning, but the inspiration that they brought to others. Those posts were heartfelt and helpful in bringing people together as a community to voice their sadness.

Of course no one was acting maliciously, but as I saw the number for the suicide hotline over and over again, it felt almost dismissive and borderline offensive. I understand that people often feel helpless, especially if they have no personal experience with mental health issues. It’s a good natured attempt to express themselves and offer support, but for those of you who might fall into that category, let me try and help you understand.

While at the lowest parts of my addiction and depression, I was convinced that I was broken. I felt like I was treading water and it took all the energy I had to barely keep my head afloat. I couldn’t afford to waste any on dialing a phone number. I knew help was there — “help is always there if you want it” as they say — but I felt like a burden to myself and anyone else around me. Why would I admit my shame to someone else when it was already hard enough for me alone to live with it? What would talking do? I talked to myself enough and anything positive was fleeting and useless.

Most of the time I didn’t want help. I wanted to be left alone. I wanted to dive deeper into what felt comfortable to me. I yearned to find a way to simply erase my existence because then I could be gone without actively hurting those people who cared about me by killing myself.

When someone is in that type of mindset, it’s laughable to expect them to take the initiative to help themselves. What means the most is for those people around them to reach out and actually do something. When this type of thing happens again, and it will, please take some time to think about your response. Learn how to support someone with a mental illness.

In the spirit of helping, here are some ways that you can do so with actions instead of words.

A big thank you to those of you who responded with ways to help out. 

Be a resource for your loved ones 

Sometimes spreading mental health awareness can simply mean supporting and listening to those closest to us. Statistics show that supportively talking about suicide can actually reduce suicidal ideation.

  • Don’t judge.
  • Don’t try to fix (a big one).
  • Ask and listen.

I also received a number of comments from people who expressed that the things that meant the most to them during hard times were that people reached out in person, on the phone, and even brought food to let them know they they were thinking of them. Learning how to support someone with a mental illness is is actually much easier than you think.

Get involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI is a wonderful nationwide organization that I’ve had the privilege of working with in the past. There are individual chapters as well as the nationwide organization that allows you to get involved with on a variety of levels. Here is a link to all of the volunteer opportunities and make sure to search for your local chapter to see how you can get involved close to home.

Write your legislator

(I sent one to my legislator about the opioid epidemic)

Policy change is key to helping all individuals get access to mental health treatment regardless of income or insurance. This link will equip you with the tools you need to do so.

Get QPR training 

(I signed up for this!)

QPR stands for “question, persuade, refer” and is a method aimed at recognizing warning symptoms of suicide. From recognition, you can learn what steps to take next to help someone who may be suicidal. Think of it as CPR training for mental health.

The training is 60 min, only costs $29.95, and will leave you with this information:

  • How to Question, Persuade and Refer someone who may be suicidal
  • How to get help for yourself or learn more about preventing suicide
  • The common causes of suicidal behavior
  • The warning signs of suicide
  • How to get help for someone in crisis

You can read more and sign up here!

Work a hotline

With training, you could donate a few hours of your time to work the domestic violence and suicide hotline for those in crisis.

  • Here is a link to a non-profit organization in Chicago with a hotline requiring local volunteers
  • Train as a volunteer for the Crisis Text Line from anywhere in the country.
  • Volunteer for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline instead of simply sharing the number. Read this quick report to see how your state is performing in answer rates. It may surprise you.

Volunteer in other ways at Mental Health America

  • Clerical Work (Telephone/Filing/Research/etc.), Community Outreach (in D.C. area only right now)
  • For further opportunities near you, search for an affiliate at this link

Donate unwanted items 

Donations are an overlooked way to support someone with a mental illness. Look for volunteer postings or donation items requested at this link. (Link results are for Illinois, but simply change the location depending on where you live).

Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)

The DBSA is currently looking to fill the following positions at their Chicago location. If you are not in Chicago, there are still nationwide opportunities at the bottom of the list.

Seek treatment

  • Here is a link to match up with a therapist right for you. (Results are for Chicago, but simply change the location at the top of the page for you).
  • Advekit is currently only specific to LA and OC, California, but confidentially helps match locals with an appropriate therapist.

If you found this helpful, please consider sharing with others to help educate and inform. You can do so by sharing on social media or emailing to someone who may benefit. Thank you!

Did I forget any? Let me know any of your suggestions about how to support someone with a mental illness in the comments below.

7 comments on “How To Support Someone With A Mental Illness

  1. Very timely and helpful post, Erin! It is very hard to relate when you have no history or personal experience with mental illness yourself. We need more posts like these telling people exactly what to do to help effectively. 💕

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
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  2. Confession….I’m in the midst of this struggle and each day suicide becomes not just “another” option it seems like the “only and best” option.

    Like many I hide this side of me…I put on a daily performance around people but try to get home as soon as I can to take off my masks/costume.

    I’m also afraid to reach out for help because I don’t want to be involuntarily committed. I’ve been to therapists and a psychiatrist and even when I have filled out the questionnaire with all negative answers I don’t feel like it’s been addressed though probably because I always just say I’ve had passive death wishes.

    Basically, I’m just saying it’s not always obvious when someone is dealing with this but if a friend or family member ever straight up asked me I would probably be relieved to just tell them. My brother and sister don’t seem to take me seriously when I make comments.

    People seem afraid to talk about death despite it being something that we ALL have in common.

    Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who seem “fine” on the outside…calling some number won’t help me….I know what they’ll say and I’m too exhausted to try to find a therapist/psychiatrist and try to explain myself.

    1. Thinking of you and sending you love 💗 I have been there and it turned out that life got worse before it got better again and I am still getting up but that was my journey to learn to never take it for granted. Long story short I lost my baby boy and now I live my life for him as he didn’t get a chance to . I know it might be confusing and feel hopeless but with the right help and support you can come out of it and you will look back and be so proud of yourself. There is way more love around you than you may think/see and that is worth staying around for, I promise you 💗

  3. Thank you for this post. I think it’s so important for those who haven’t really had experience with this in their own life or the life of their loved ones; it’s too easy to remain ignorant, and though we all want to do the right thing, it can often come across callous or unwanted. We all need more posts like this with people talking about actionable things that can be done.
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  4. Great list Erin. I’d add another possible action step, which is to take Mental Health First Aid. You can google it to find it in your area. It’s a longer training than the one you reference, but gives great information on how to ask/talk about suicide along with a ton of information on a variety of mental health illnesses. I highly recommend it.

  5. Even though this post is from 2.5 years ago, it’s particularly timely right now due to the impact of the pandemic on multiple areas of our lives. There’s been a significant increase in new mood disorder diagnoses, as well as decompensation for those already being treated for a mood disorder; substance-abuse disorders/including relapses; & more.

    Thanks for reposting such a critically important piece chock full of concrete supports. ❤️

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