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Mental illness is a real struggle that many Americans face. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 1 in 5 U.S. adults struggle with some mental illness, which is approximately 57.8 million people. So, what can you do if someone you are close to seems to be experiencing a mental illness?

How to Tell if Someone is Struggling with Mental Illness

Sometimes life gets difficult, and challenges arise that can cause people to get sad, angry, or stressed. So how can you understand the difference between someone going through a hard time versus someone dealing with a mental illness?

Everyone handles life’s challenges differently, and “mental illness” is an umbrella term for a diverse list of diagnoses, so sometimes distinguishing the two can be challenging. In addition, each mental condition has its own catalog of symptoms, some overlapping and some unique, and not everyone with the same mental illness experiences the same symptoms. 

One thing that may help you decipher if someone is experiencing a hard time or a serious mental health issue is the length of time they have been struggling. If the symptoms have been lasting for extended periods of time, that may be a sign it is more than a bad day. 

Seeking a professional diagnosis is critical in beginning the treatment of a mental illness. 

While the following list of behaviors is not exhaustive or indicative of someone experiencing mental illness, it can be a good starting point if you are concerned about a loved one.

Signs someone may be dealing with mental illness:

  • A sudden loss of interest in activities that used to bring them joy
  • They have told you they hear voices
  • They have told you about disturbing thoughts
  • They seem to be experiencing a change in sleep patterns
  • They have been missing a lot of school or work
  • They avoid those who were once closest to them
  • They’ve had a significant change in appetite
  • They heavily use drugs or alcohol
  • They’ve been talking about suicide
  • They’ve been talking about feeling hopeless
  • They seem emotionally numb

How to Help Someone with Mental Illness

Three ways to help someone struggling with a mental illness are to learn about their diagnosis, provide emotional support by listening and validating their experiences, and provide practical support by helping them with daily tasks that may be overwhelming.

As you extend a helping hand, ensure you are taking care of yourself and not letting your mental health suffer, as well as ensuring your loved one is comfortable with the level of involvement you want to offer in this part of their life. 

Learn about their mental illness

Knowledge is power. If the individual you would like to help has a professional diagnosis, one of the most helpful things you can do is educate yourself on the condition. By learning about potential causes, triggers, and treatments, you can be more sensitive to their needs and show interest in supporting them. If they are comfortable discussing their experiences with you, it may also be relieving to chat with someone who is well-read on the condition they have. Learning about the illness can also increase your confidence in knowing how to take care of them. 

The National Institute of Mental Health is a great resource and offers descriptions, treatment options, and other research on various mental health conditions. 

Provide emotional support

Having a mental illness can be emotionally exhausting. A great way to provide emotional support is to lend a listening ear to your loved one. Remember that you do not need to reply with solutions to their issues. Sometimes just conversing with an empathetic friend can provide a lot of emotional relief. 

Be sure to respect the boundaries of your friend. If they do not want to talk about their mental health with you or seem overwhelmed by the conversation, respect their needs and change or slow down the discussion.

Provide practical support

Dealing with a mental illness and the responsibilities of managing it can be draining to do by oneself. Offering practical support in your loved one’s life can be valuable. A few ideas of ways to provide support include:

  • Helping them keep track of appointments and meetings
  • Helping them keep track of their medication schedule
  • Encouraging them to set and meet goals
  • Promoting a healthy lifestyle (exercise, balanced diet, consistent sleep, etc.)

How to Talk about Mental Illness

Learning how to talk about mental illness and mental health is a vital part of being able to help people that struggle with it. In addition, by talking about mental illness without shame, you can help end the harmful stigma around mental health that stops people from getting the help they need. 

How to talk about mental health:

  • Be direct, do not beat around the bush, as it will add confusion and possibly make it seem you are uncomfortable with the topic.
  • Choose a safe space where the person will feel comfortable.
  • Slow down if the person seems uncomfortable or confused.
  • Educate yourself on resources if they would like more help.
  • Do not be condescending, critical, or make jokes about their experience.
  • Understand they are not their mental illness. Use terms like “You have depression,” not “You are depressed.” This can help separate the person from the condition they are experiencing, as their mental illness does not define them.

Avoid saying things like:

  • “This is all in your head.”
  • “Try changing your attitude.”
  • “You have the same diagnosis as ________.”

What if Someone Struggling Doesn’t Want My Help?

It can be painful to see someone you care about struggle with their mental health and even more painful to see them avoid seeking help, but you must remember this is not in your control. 

If someone struggling with a mental illness doesn’t want help, you can still show support by listening to and not judging their experiences. While helping this individual, avoid trying to solve their problems and giving advice. Instead, focus on listening and pointing them toward professional help.  

Offering Support in a Crisis

Mental illness is a serious matter and, in some cases, can lead people to want to harm themselves or experience a different reality. If you find yourself or a loved one in this situation, it is important to stay calm and get connected to help immediately.

Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-HELP (4357)

SAHSA Helpline

Call the National Suicide Hotline: 988

Suicide Hotline 988

Seeking Professional Help

The best thing you can do for someone struggling with mental illness is to encourage them to seek professional care. Speaking with a physician or mental health professional is crucial in the healing journey. Professionals will know the correct assessments to shape a diagnosis and effectively treat the condition.

Make Sure You Are Supported Too

Being there for someone with a mental illness is a great way to show support for them, but you cannot pour from an empty cup. You will only show up best for others if you make sure you are supported too. 

Make sure you are taking care of yourself by exercising regularly, maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and keeping up with your hobbies & interests. Talking with people going through the same thing can be very validating; try finding local peer support groups to attend. Finding a mental health professional for yourself can also be a valuable asset to your support circle as you attempt to process all that is happening around you. 

Sometimes you are not in a place where you can be involved with helping those around you struggling, and that is okay. Instead, connect them with resources such as a mental health professional or another trusted loved one. 

The Phoenix Recovery Center is Here to Help

If something isn’t right and you or a loved one is struggling with a mental illness, look no further. The Phoenix Recovery Center is specifically designed for your loved ones to receive fully customized, comprehensive care. Our state-of-the-art facility offers inpatient and outpatient treatments and direct access to mental health professionals many people usually wait months for. So get started today to find empowerment, healing, and joy with The Phoenix Recovery Center.

Call today at (801) 438-3185

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT