Advice on how to talk to someone with mental illness

I just thought I’d post a few tips and advice on how to talk to someone who struggles, its not always that obvious what you should or could do to help and support.

The one big thing to remember is don’t be afraid to ask!

Even though you might get yelled at it still makes a difference knowing that someone sees you and cares for you.

When I was at my lowest I managed to keep a mask on and pretend everything was fine. Until someone asked «how are you doing?» I refused to give a real answer and the person asked again. «Are you sure you are fine?» All I wanted was to get out of the room and just slam the door but I broke down in tears. And that was a big part of the reason I got help and finally did something about my situation. That, and my husband more or less kicking me in the ass and saying «Today you are calling in sick for work and then you are going to the doctor.» I would NEVER have done that on my own because I was «fine». I wasn’t sick. I wanted to die, but I wasn’t sick. No.

Even though you have no idea what a person is going through, just being there and telling them that you see they are having a hard time is helpful. Ask if there is anything you can do. Go buy groceries, vacuum their house, do the dishes. Don’t stress anything, be patient.

This is what you can do to help:

  • If someone is inflicting self harm remember that they do this in an effort to try to handle hurtful emotions. If someone you know is doing this, or you might suspect someone of doing this, don’t be afraid to ask. Tell this person that you are here for them, and give them time. Don’t force an answer, just wait and ask again in a while. If they do tell you that they are harming themselves or just want to, try to help the person focus on other stuff. Go for a walk, paint, play a game.
  • If someone you know might be suicidal –  don’t be afraid to ask! Showing that you are seeing them through asking how they are doing might make all the difference in the world. Give them advice on who to talk to, if you feel its necessary – call for help!
  • Know someone who struggle with keeping focused? Speak clearly, do one thing at a time, take your time and take breaks.

Bipolar? These things is what people that are bipolar wants you to know:

  • Being in a maniac state is not something that is funny
  • Bipolar isn’t like mood swings, but longer periods with a certain mood and energy levels
  • The worst part about being bipolar is the judgement that comes with it
  • Most people can’t tell that anyone suffers from bipolar unless they tell about it themselves
  • Never belittle someone who suffers by saying things like «I also was like that when I was younger»
  • Don’t blame a bipolar for having an episode if they are simply having a bad day. Bipolar people also have feelings like you and me.

(This is a shorter version of an article at by Kui Rodriguez-Cayro) 

  • If you know someone who hears voices than please be patient at times, its hard having a conversation while «someone» is talking in your ear. Keep the sentences short if the person you are talking to seems to be distracted.
  • If someone is going through a severe depression, just be there. Tell them you see them struggling and that you understand that they are going through something right now. Again, ASK! How are they really doing, are they thinking of taking their own life? Take the answers you get seriously. Call for help if you feel its necessary.

But do take care of yourself in all this, too. Its ok to tell someone who struggles «don’t talk  to me like that» if they are not being themselves. Take breaks.

(Read the whole article «What to do when someone is severely depressed» by Heather Murphy here.)

What to do if the person you are with might be psychotic:

  • Be yourself. Be calm.
  • Avoid long discussions if your friend is hung up in strange ideas. Instead, listen and try and understand how this person is seeing the world right now.
  • Don’t criticise even though you disagree. Show empathy even though you disagree.
  • Be clear. Talk in short sentences.
  • Your friend can get better, just be patient.
  • Call for help (doctor, emergency or your friend’s therapist) if needed.

And in the end, know that it isn’t all up to you to make another person healthy again.

You can be a support, but in the end, the person suffering needs to seek help and let trained professionals do the work. If it gets too much then back away. Its not your responsibility so don’t feel bad if you’re doing everything you can but not getting anywhere. After all, we are all just humans.

Any other advice out there?

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