How to help family and friends struggling with mental health

With mental health becoming a growing concern in the world, it is important that we learn what we can do to help those who are struggling.


Kennedy Gwin, Reporter

1 in 4—that’s how many adults suffer from at least one mental illness. For teens, that statistic is 1 in 5. So, the odds are that we know at least one person battling mental illness, and it’s understandable to feel hopeless, like there’s nothing you can do to help. For some, having a loved one with mental illnesses can start to affect themselves just as much as it may be affected the person they care but. Luckily, there is help out there for you and your loved ones and ways you can learn to help them.

You may not even know when your friend or family member is battling mental health, but there are warning signs you can look for. However, you should know that mental illness can look different from person to person, so it is important to be aware of how they are feeling regardless of these signs. 

Paraphrasing the American Psychiatric Association; staying away from social interaction, difficulty doing their work, or dramatic and unhealthy changes in their diet and/or sleep schedule are some of the major signs of mental illness. If someone is showing these symptoms, the APA suggests you look into medical evaluation to make sure you are doing the best that you can to help your loved one. 

Before you can help someone, you have to form a line for open communication. “Express your concern and willingness to listen and be there for the person… Encourage them to talk with a mental health care provider or with their primary care provider if that would be more comfortable for them” the APA states. Some people, however, aren’t ready to open up yet and you shouldn’t force them to. You can only let them know that you will be right by their side when they are ready. Then make sure to educate yourself on their situation. The better you understand what they are battling with, the better you can empathize with them and help.

In order to take care of others, you have to take care of yourself first. According to the APA, “It’s not abnormal to feel ashamed, or hurt, or embarrassed by a family member whose behaviors can be difficult to understand and deal with. Many people also feel anger at the circumstances and even at the person who has been diagnosed.” So if this is happening to you, don’t feel bad to reach out for help. There are support groups like National Alliance on Mental Illness, or Mental Health America that are made for loved ones of people struggling with mental illnesses. NAMI compared it to an emergency on an airplane: you have to put your air mask on first before you can help anyone else. 

You have to realize that the road to recovery is not always easy, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Your attitude and actions can affect your loved ones recovery, so make sure to treat them with understanding and patience. Another tip from NAMI is to make a crisis plan that you share with your friends and family, to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. 

Mental illness isn’t an easy topic to talk about, but it is an important one to discuss. You have to be willing to listen and learn in order to help the people you care about. You also can’t be ashamed to ask for help for yourself, because it’s just as important to take care of yourself as it is to take care of your loved ones.