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How to Help Someone with a Mental Illness

Two women of color sit next to each other, one is crying while the other puts a hand on her shoulder

When someone you love is exhibiting signs of a mental illness, it can be heartbreaking. It’s not an easy journey to navigate — for them or you. 

While every individual and situation varies, one of the best things you can do as a loved one in this position is to learn how to get someone help with a mental illness.

Recognizing Symptoms of Mental Illness

Mental health includes your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It impacts your entire life, including how you think, feel, and act. It can determine how you respond to stress, participate in and seek out relationships, and make decisions. Factors such as biology, life experiences, and family history can play a part in your mental health. 

When the mental health of someone you know isn’t optimal, they can struggle to enjoy life and all it has to offer. Knowing the warning signs of mental illness is the first step in getting your loved one the help they need. 

It may be time to get someone help with a mental illness when any of the following signs and symptoms are present: 

  • Reduced ability to concentrate
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Extreme mood swings

Loving Someone with Mental Illness

If someone you know has a mental illness, you focus time, resources, and energy on their needs. It can leave you wondering how to maintain a loving relationship without feeling depleted. 

Here are some tips for loving someone with a mental illness:

  • Educate Yourself. Read up on the most up-to-date information about mental health from the National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Model Self Care. It isn’t easy to support your loved one in making healthy lifestyle choices if you’re not modeling them yourself. To function at our best, we all need to eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. So it’s helpful to invite your loved one to join you in making healthy lifestyle choices. Everyone needs an accountability partner, and this can be an opportunity to help you improve your lifestyle, too.
  • Be a Safe Person. Your loved one needs someone they can trust for positive affirmation, physical safety, and accountability. This trust includes developing a plan with your loved one in case of emergencies. You need to call 911 if you’re concerned your loved one is at risk for self-harm, suicide, abuse, or harm to others.
  • Find Others that Offer Support. Loving someone with a mental illness can be unpredictable, and at times, terrifying. Therefore, it’s important to find others to walk with you, versus journeying alone. 
  • Know When to Take a Break – Sometimes, you learn how to best help someone with a mental illness when you take a step back to gain perspective. If you feel overwhelmed, isolated, or scared about your relationship with your loved one, it’s time to re-evaluate. Taking some time and space away can be difficult. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the person. It means you are taking a healthy break to recollect and examine what’s helping and what’s not.

Signs of Co-Occurring Disorders in a loved one.

Ways to Offer Support

Dealing with mental illness is tough, and the stigma and shame around it exacerbate it. It’s essential to break the silence because your loved one can feel isolated and alone. 

Here are ways to offer your loved one support:

  • Express Concern. Be willing to offer a listening ear and be there for the person. Reassure them that you care about them and are there for them. 
  • Treat Them with Respect. Your loved one’s mental illness does not define them. Avoid judgment of their thoughts and actions. Steer clear of using “you” statements. Use “I” statements instead.
  • Let Them Share. Remember that ultimately, this is your loved one’s journey –– not yours. Listen with compassion, and offer information when appropriate. Don’t pry. Let them share as much or as little as they want. 
  • Remind Them of Recovery. Professionals can treat mental health problems. It may be helpful to ask your loved one to humor you and seek professional help together.
  • Address Potential Barriers. To make it easier for your loved one to get help, you can try to anticipate potential barriers for them doing so. For example, it may be helpful to research prospective therapists, their hours, locations, and insurance-related issues. You also can offer to help eliminate potential hurdles like transportation, childcare, and work.
  • Seek Help for Yourself. You can’t be your best self when you’re running on empty. Accompanying a loved one on this journey can be draining. You might benefit from getting professional counseling or participating in a support group or prayer community.

four people sit in chairs in a circle. A black male is at the center and three women are around listening

Responding to a Crisis

Knowing how to help someone with a mental illness means preparing yourself to respond to a crisis. A crisis would include if your loved one feels suicidal, inflicts self-harm, or experiences an altered reality. 

Here are some strategies you can use to help a loved one in crisis:

  • Listen without judgment
  • Avoid confrontation
  • Encourage them to seek help
  • Call for professional help yourself

How ILC Can Help

At Integrative Life Center, our intention is to meet the specific needs of your loved one. You want your loved one to thrive, and we can help to accompany them on a path to happiness and functioning in the world. 

ILC treats a variety of mental health concerns using a full-person approach. This approach means we help our patients uncover the root of the problem and then work with them to treat their minds, bodies, and spirits through various therapies that best fit their needs. Our goal is complete and lasting recovery.

If you or someone you love has a mental illness and needs help, contact us today.


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