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Tips for supporting someone with mental illness

Like any other health problem, someone with a mental illness needs that extra love and support. You may not be able to see the illness, but it doesn’t mean that you’re powerless to help. Talking to someone is often the first step to take when you know they are going through a hard time. This way you can find out what is troubling them and what you can do to help. There are a number of ways you can support a friend, relative or colleague who has a mental health problem:

  • Listen carefully to what they tell you.
  • Don’t reinforce or dismiss their experiences, but acknowledge how the symptoms are making them feel.
  • Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your own diagnosis or solutions.
  • If they have hurt themselves, make sure they get the necessary first aid.
  • Ask if there is someone, they would like you to contact.
  • Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this.
  • If someone tells you they are feeling suicidal or can’t go on, or if you suspect they are thinking of taking their own life, it is very important to encourage them to get help and contact your nearest professional.
  • They are not to be blamed for their illness, but they may feel that they are responsible. You can help encourage hope.
  • Offering objectivity, compassion and acceptance is valuable beyond measure.
  • No matter how much you love someone, it cannot save them so avoid falling into the role of ‘fixer’ and ‘saviour’.
  • Remember that you may also need emotional support and need to take care of your mental health too. Consider joining a support group for family members/caretakers of people with mental illness.

You can help your friend or family member by recognizing the signs of mental health problems and connecting them to professional help. Remember just like people need to take medicine and get professional help for physical conditions, someone with a mental health problem may need to take medicine and/or therapy in order to get better.

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