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Not sure what to do if a friend or family member has mental health issues? These tips may help.

Knowing what to say or do when someone you care about is struggling with a mental health issue can be difficult. Showing that you care can make a big difference, so don’t let your fear of saying or doing the wrong thing stop you from being there for a friend or family member in need.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you feel more comfortable about communicating your support:
Do’s
  • Do listen without judgment. Be available to really listen to the person with an open mind. You don’t have to feel like they do, but do what you can to understand how they feel. Let them know they have your unconditional support and make your words and actions back that up. This includes not only what you say, but your body language and tone of voice.
  • Do ask questions. It’s okay if you don’t understand exactly what they’re going through. By asking questions about how they feel, their symptoms or what can be done to help, it shows you care. Don’t push or pry if they don’t want to give you the answers. Just give them an opening to explain things if they want.
  • Do encourage them to get help. If the person isn’t being treated for their mental health issue, let them know help is available. Offer to help them get the treatment they need, but back off if they don’t want your help or get angry with you for making the suggestion. If they’re not ready to discuss treatment with you, provide them with some information to read when they are.
  • Do provide assistance where you can. Sometimes all you can is try to make a person’s life a little easier. Offering to help with daily tasks like picking up groceries, cleaning the house or taking the dog for a walk may be appreciated by someone who finds it hard to get through the day.
Don’ts
  • Don’t say you know how they feel. While you may want to sound sympathetic and make them feel that they’re not alone, don’t compare your feelings to what they’re going through (unless you’ve actually experienced the same thing). Doing so may make them feel like you’re minimizing the seriousness of their situation.
  • Don’t give the person a pep talk. You may be inclined to tell the person that everything will be okay and they should just cheer up. Although that is what you wish for them, making comments like this may make the person feel like you don’t really understand what they’re going through. They may also feel criticized for not “snapping out of it” more quickly.
  • Don’t think your distractions will solve their problem. You may want to keep the person busy to keep their mind off their mental health issue, but don’t be insulted if they don’t want to get involved. Feel free to invite the person to outings but be understanding if they turn down the invitation.
  • Don’t give up on them. It may seem like the person has pushed you away but don’t give up on them. They may feel like a burden or may be embarrassed by what they’re dealing with. It’s not a reflection on you personally, so do what you can to be there for them in any way possible.

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Date Last Reviewed: August 21, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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