How to Support Your Friend’s Mental Health Journey
When a friend is experiencing mental health issues, it’s hard to know what to do or say. But mental illness shouldn’t have that kind of stigma; would you retreat from a friend diagnosed with heart disease? Mental health is just another aspect of overall health. And it’s common; mental illness affects more than 1 in 5 Americans.
Ways to Help
- Talk to your friend about what’s happening. Ask if they’re OK and express your concern. Do they want help or are they getting some help? If your friend acknowledges they need help but don’t know where to go, educate yourself and give them some options. Help them locate appropriate services and be ready with answers to any obstacles they raise, such as childcare, costs or transportation.
- Let them know you’re supportive and will stand by them.
- Ask for concrete ways to help. Do you need me to pick up some groceries for you? Do you need a ride to your therapist appointment? Would you like if I came over and helped you catch up on your housework or laundry?
- Check in regularly. Don’t be offended if your friend seems to reject your offers to go out. Instead, ask if they’d like to join you in a walk or hike. Perhaps crowds and hustle-bustle are not good for them right now. Maybe you can pick up carryout and watch a good comedy with them if they seem reluctant to leave the house.
- Ask if you can help them talk to anyone, like parents or school.
- Let them know they can talk to you without fear of judgment. Ask how they are feeling, but say it so they know it’s not small talk or rhetorical.
Signs it’s a Real Problem
The sadness, irritability or fears interfere with them working, sleeping, eating, going to school or being in public. They are withdrawn, isolated or unable to keep up with typical interests, activities, or even basic hygiene.
Ask your friend if they have thoughts of hurting themselves or others. If they seem to be in danger, seek help. If it’s a mental health emergency, call 911 and explain it’s a mental health crisis and you want a crisis management or social worker not a uniformed officer. You don’t want to trigger a worse moment, but rather want help.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Helpline: from 10 am to 10 pm Eastern Time Zone, 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)