I’ve had a long-ass experience with mental illness and whilst right now, I’m thankfully pretty much fully recovered from my anxiety disorder, I’m still such a huge advocate for mental health awareness because my own experience with a mental illness in terms of the support I received was very much up and down.
In light of the Samaritans, The Big Listen, awareness day today (July 24th in the UK) I wanted to share some advice that I would like to give, as someone that’s been on the side of the person with the mental illness.
I had a lot of very good and very bad support when I was mentally ill.
Some people close to me who just didn’t understand what was happening and instead of being supportive and patient, would say things like, “are you for real?” when I was in the midst of an anxiety attack.
Definitely not something to say to someone with anxiety.
I was called a bad friend because I couldn’t go out for a birthday celebration. When, at the time, I was struggling to leave my own bed and couldn’t even go into a corner shop without panicking, let alone a pub or a nightclub.
But for every negative experience, there was a good one.
My Mum was incredibly supportive and patient with me, helping me build up my confidence again and supporting me through the steps I needed to take. I had an amazing therapist who, quite honestly, I don’t know where I’d be today without.
I’m sure most of us with experience of mental illness also has experience of good and bad support from friends, family, doctors and professionals.
Unfortunately, the support for mental illness in this country still isn’t quite up to scratch but there are companies, charities, initiatives and people out there willing and able to listen and lend a hand.
One of those charities is the Samaritans, a talking service which I’ve used before many times and generally, had a very good experience with. They’ve been a listening ear when I felt like I had absolutely no-one to talk to.
What is The Big Listen?
Samaritans are a free, UK 24 hour service which provide support for those struggling or in distress. There’s a lot of misconceptions about this charity, for example, that you have to be suicidal in order to qualify to ring them, which isn’t the case at all.
Samaritans was set up in 1953, has over 200 branches across the UK and Northern Ireland and all the way back in 2011, they had 20,665 volunteers. Samaritans are there, day and night, to anyone who need them.
24th July is Samaritans Awareness Day, also known as, The Big Listen. And today is where we raise awareness of the charity and their Talk T0 Us campaign, to remind people that they are there, 24/7, for anyone that needs them.
How To Use the Samaritans Services
Call: 116 123 day or night, 365 days a year
Download the Samaritans Self-Help app
So, all that said, I wanted to share some of my own tips on how to support someone with a mental illness. I’ve been on the receiving end of this support and whilst everyone is different, I believe there are some guidelines that can be universal.
6 Ways To Support Someone With a Mental Illness
Listen to them
Listening is the easiest thing any of us can do when it comes to helping another person. Yet for some reason, SO many people fail to be able to listen adequately to another human being. Always thinking ahead to what they’re going to say and not really taking anything in.
And when they have opened up to you, please remember to:
- Not interrupt them: It might have taken a lot of courage to open up in the first place, let them get it out
- Don’t say you understand if you don’t: Even if you DO have a mental illness yourself, everyone has vastly different experiences
- Don’t make the conversation about you: Unless they ask for your experience, please don’t automatically reply with your own anecdote. It might have taken a lot for them to open up to you, the last thing they need is to feel like they’re not being listened to
Do your own research into their condition
If you have a close friend or family member with a mental illness, you don’t always have to rely on them to talk, share and educate. You can take things into your own hands privately – and I urge you to do just that.
Do your own research into what they’re struggling with. You can find a lot of basic advice on the NHS website which is a fantastic place to start but go a bit further with your research if you can.
Be gentle and patient with them
This is so key to helping someone with a mental illness. They already feel like absolute shit. They might feel like a burden on their friends or family, a let-down, a disappointment. If they feel like I felt back then, then they definitely feel all those emotions.
Trust me, they already feel absolutely terrible, so the least you can do is be patient and gentle with them. Don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to do (although should anyone be doing that, really?) and let them do things at their own pace.
Check in with them regularly and don’t exclude them
Sometimes people with mental illness don’t want to be continuously looked over and examined like an animal in a cage but checking in with them is a nice thing to do and knowing there are people out there who care will really help.
A text or phone call once a week never hurt anyone.
Offer some practical help
If they’re struggling physically and with practicalities of every day life, then perhaps practical help is going to be the most needed and appreciated form of help you can give them at this time.
Granted, not everyone IS good at the emotional side of helping people, so if that’s you can you think you could offer practical help instead, then that’s great. Cook them some dinners, do a shop, offer to run a couple of errands – they will really appreciate it.
And there are plenty of inexpensive ways to show kindness to others, too.
Encourage them to seek professional help – but don’t force it
And if it’s comfortable for you both, depending on your relationship and how close you are, if you’re really worried about them or worried things aren’t getting any better then it might be time to encourage them to seek further help.
You’ll need to do this in a sensitive way. Don’t throw them in the deep end with it as it might have the opposite effect. Try not force it but maybe leave some numbers with them or offer to book their doctors appointment.
And what if you’re the one struggling?
If you’re the one struggling, first of all please know that you’re not alone and that there is help out there.
Perhaps mental illness or feelings of anxiety, depression or extra stress are new to you and you’re not quite sure what to do or where to start. Here are a few suggestions:
Go to your GP
If you feel like you can, talk to your GP. A face to face appointment is always best but if you really don’t feel like you can go, try and arrange a telephone appointment instead.
If you need medication (which, if you do, another thing you absolutely don’t need to be ashamed of. I love being on medication – it’s changed my life), then they’re the person that can help with that.
Talk to a trusted friend or family member
This is usually harder than talking to a GP or even sharing your struggles online with people you don’t know. You just don’t know how people in your life will react. If they’re true friends or really have your best interests at heart, they will help you.
They will be understanding and patient – they won’t just leave you to suffer. Although it can be scary to open up to someone you know, you should definitely try.
Write down your feelings in a journal
If you need a safe space to write how you’re feeling – especially if you’re confused about your current feelings – then journaling is a great way to do this. You don’t need anything fancy, just a simple 50p notebook from Tesco and a pen.
Contact Samaritans if you’re not ready to talk face-to-face
If you’re really not sure who to talk to and don’t feel comfortable talking to a loved one, the Samaritans are there for you and are a great resource if you feel stuck. Your phone call can remain anonymous and you don’t even have to disclose your name if you don’t want to.
Utilize your local library for self-help books
I know this might sound a bit wishy-washy but when I started to experience anxiety, this actually really helped me. I got a lot of books which helped me learn the science behind anxiety and the physiological aspects of the illness.
Knowledge is power. So it might really help to take matters into your own hands and discover some self-help or personal growth books so you can start making small changes yourself.
Don’t neglect your basic needs
And finally, when you’re suffering with a mental illness, it can be really difficult to keep on top of your needs, when mentally, you’re struggling so much. But remember, you’re worth being looked after.
So even if you’re feeling awful or unmotivated to do anything, try and at least look after your basic self care and learn some self-soothing techniques. And remember, if that’s all you manage to do that day, then that’s absolutely fine.
I hope this post can help you learn how to support someone with a mental illness. Remember, all mental illnesses are different and so is everyone who has one.
Even two people with exactly the same illness might be acting very differently.
There’s no one size fits all approach with any mental illness, so use these as a guideline and act accordingly, depending on what your person needs.
But they will need love, patience and understanding.
What other advice would you give to people learning how to support someone with a mental illness?
Want some more exclusive content? Sign up to my mailing list for access to my freebie library, where you can grab your Mental Health for Bloggers Handbook and more.
Want more mental health content? Check out these posts: