This blog will share my thoughts on how to be there for someone with mental illness alongside rounding up some expert tips. While we talk about low mental health and periods of lows, this guide will focus specifically on mental illness.
How To Be There For Someone Through Low Mental Health
Before we get into the post, I wanted to share a key distinction. We all have a mental well-being. It’s how we think and feel and what kind of place we are in. We all have days better than others, and this is all part of having a mental health.
But 1 in 4 of us that will experience a diagnosable mental illness. Talking from personal experience, I cover anxiety and depression a lot, but there are more complex conditions like C-PSTD and schizophrenia, while rarer, we cannot overlook.
This blog will share my thoughts on what it means to be there for someone with mental illness and what is and isn’t expected of you.
Firstly your involvement with someone’s mental illness will depend a lot on your relationship with someone. You may be a lot closer to your best friend or partner than you are with a colleague, for example.
What’s important is that both people are comfortable with the level of involvement. If you’re not in a good place yourself, it may be asking too much for you to always be there for someone else. And that’s completely okay.
Similarly, you may be a really caring person, but if the individual with mental illness doesn’t feel open with you, questions can come across as invasive.
What does it mean to “be there “
This is something I always talk about, particularly during Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, to offer encouragement to take action and be there for someone.
I want to share my view on exactly what this means. Chances are, you’re not an expert. You may not know a lot about the illness someone has, and that’s okay. This isn’t about fixing things. You’re not expected to do that.
I know how hard it is to want to make everything better but not be able to. But you’re not a substitute for professional support, and that’s not something you’re likely to be in a place to provide.
Especially for those, we love that can be so hard. But being there just means literally being there. Being there to talk to. Still being someone’s friend.
This matters so much. It’s the small interactions we have on the daily that count. And that’s what you can be part of.
Being understanding while not understanding
When having these small interactions, it may feel like you don’t understand everything. You may not be able to have those “deep conversations.” And that’s okay, those conversations require a safe space to be aired, and that’s not something you may be ready to create.
You’re not expected to know everything. But you can still be understanding when someone isn’t up for going out or taking longer to respond. Not being quick to judge and accepting things may differ in your interactions with those without mental illness is crucial.
Helping someone feel accepted, validated and a little bit normal matters so much and is the best way, in my view, you can be there for someone.
Now I’ve run through my own thoughts on both sides of a mental health conversation, and I wanted to round up some expert tips that are useful too.
Mental Health Foundation
The Mental Health Foundation’s tips on how to provide support offer practical advice to help you get through a conversation about mental health and signpost some organisations who can support.
Every Mind Matters
Every Mind Matters is the NHS campaign for better mental health. I wanted to share this because of a crucial tip, “act as you use usually do together,” which I’ve advocated for a lot. When having mental health conversations keep things normal. You can still have a laugh, mess about and have fun together. This is something that’s helped me a lot in my own friendships.
Young Minds have shared some advice from young people about what helps them open up about mental health. This personal perspective is really valuable. Being honest during mental health conversations, not walking on eggshells to say the right thing but being open and having trust is so important.
I hope you’ve found this guide useful for talking through what it means to be there and support someone with mental illness. I’d love to add additional tips to this page, so please share them in the comments for others.
By Jake Symons
Jake Symons is an entrepreneur and passionate mental health advocate determined to share his story to help others. Alongside writing on this blog he hosts Mental Monday: Mental Health Live a biweekly intimate and unscripted conversation about mental health.