When a friend or loved one gets diagnosed with a physical illness, we tend to offer support and listen. Treating the condition is a no brainer and typically includes medication and professional help. This is a similar treatment for mental illness but can be thought of very differently.
Mental illness should be treated just like any other illness. As a friend or family member, we can do our part to better understand, listen, and provide support after a mental health diagnosis.
Learn and understand
Educate yourself on signs, symptoms, and treatment options. By understanding the facts, judgments, and stigmas are less likely to “pop up” in our minds or conversations. Be open to conversations concerning mental health.
Talk about It
Mental illness can look different for everyone and can vary in symptoms based on age, environment, brain chemistry, etc.
Ask your friend or loved one what would be the most helpful for them right now. Asking open-ended questions like, “What would you like me to know?” or “Who would you feel most comfortable talking to?” can elicit conversations on their terms. Understanding their experience can be the best source of support.
Be an active listener. Be present with few distractions. Engage in conversation to understand rather than providing suggestions or advice. Regardless of illness, being heard and understood is one of the best gifts you can give to others.
Offer a helping hand
Encourage your friend or loved one to seek or stay on track with treatment. Treatment options can include their primary care physician, counselor/therapist, psychiatrist, community resources like a support group, and self-care tools. Offer assistance or ask what they may need help with rather than assuming or forcing. It is easy to feel out of control and overwhelmed after a diagnosis. As a supporter, be respectful and open to communicating with them about their experience.
Additional Resources: National Association on Mental Illness, www.mentalhealth.gov, and Mayo Clinic.