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How to support a friend with a mental health condition

By Loren Blinde Oct 07, 2023 • 6 min

When someone you care about is struggling with a mental health condition, it’s natural to want to help. But it can be difficult to know how to best support someone who is experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or another mental health condition. Here’s a list of tips and resources to help get the conversation started.

1. Educate yourself. 

Start by doing some research about the person’s condition, including symptoms, common medications and their side effects, other treatment options and warning signs. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) are great places to start.

2. Avoid stigmas.

Unfortunately, people with mental health conditions continue to face stigmas. You can help your friend or family member by ignoring the stigmas that may surround their condition. Your loved one is still the same person, and their mental illness is not their fault.

3. Communicate with compassion and empathy.

Talk with the person in a way that makes it clear that you care about them and want to support them. You can express concern about changes you’ve noticed in their behavior or demeanor and ask questions about what they need or want from you. Most of all, spend less time doing the talking and more time listening to what they’re saying. 

4. Connect them with professional help, if needed.

If your friend or family member hasn’t reached out for help from a mental health professional, you can offer to help them navigate that process. If your loved one has a primary care provider, that provider can conduct an assessment, prescribe medication if needed and coordinate referrals. With the advent of telehealth and teletherapy appointments, there are more options than ever. Walgreens also has several options for finding a certified therapist or counselor here.

5. Watch for warning signs that someone is struggling with symptoms.

Sometimes, it’s hard for a person with a mental health condition to determine when their symptoms are beginning to get worse. But as a trusted person in their life, you’re in a great position to notice concerning changes. Pay attention to how they’re acting, what they say and what they do, and talk with them if you’re seeing changes that are worrying you. If your loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or seek immediate help from a healthcare provider.

6. Make a crisis plan.

A crisis plan has key information about a person’s diagnosis, medications and mental health history, as well as a list of resources — from crisis line numbers to contact information for their family and friends — to help in an emergency. Mental health providers often work with patients to make one. Ask the person you’re concerned about to share their crisis plan with you, if they have one. If they don’t, you can develop your own.

7. Take care of yourself.

Supporting a person facing a mental health challenge can be really stressful. And you can’t support them as effectively if you’re overwhelmed and exhausted yourself. Make your basic self-care — getting enough sleep, water, healthy food, fresh air and exercise — nonnegotiable, so you can give your best to them.

8. Get support for yourself, too.

You are not alone. Millions of Americans — as many as 1 in 5 adults — have a mental health condition. And millions more people who love them are doing their best to give them support. There is a wealth of free support resources available online for you and the people you care about. You can start by checking out SAMSHA and NAMI.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, free and confidential help is available 24/7 by calling 988 to speak with a trained counselor from the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). They have options for Spanish speakers and people who are deaf or hard of hearing as well.

Published October 2023.

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