How to help someone with mental illness

Amy Smith, Staff Writer


Unfortunately, helping someone cope with mental illness isn’t as simple as the dos and don’ts. Every mental illness is different.

The best way to try to help someone who has mental illness is to learn about the illness itself. You wouldn’t treat a schizophrenic person the same way you would treat someone with borderline personality disorder. Read what doctors have to say about it, not what the internet and the media have to say. Despite the fact that mental illness manifests itself in different ways, there are some guidelines you can use to help someone with any mental illness.

Don’t tell us “It’s all in your head.” That line trivializes our pain and makes it seem like we’re crazy or making it up. The brain is an organ, just like your heart or your lungs, and it can get sick just like any other organ. If someone has asthma, no one tells them, “Get over it, it’s all in your lungs.” Some people are born with chemical imbalances, some develop them and some are brought on by trauma, but that doesn’t mean that each illness isn’t valid and doesn’t deserve any kind of help that can be offered.

Try saying “I recognize your illness.” This tells the person you’re talking to that you’re willing to support them in their illness. You recognize their difficulties rather than diminish them, and that very sentence can help someone with mental illness as they are constantly told to simply get over it. If it were really that simple, no one would have mental illness.

Avoid phrases like “I’m so OCD about that,” “He’s so autistic” or even, “I got a bad grade today, I am so depressed.” By using phrases like this, you are taking a real mental illness that has consequences that you can’t understand, and making it sound like it’s as important as a splinter in your finger. And if you say that you’ve never said that to someone who is mentally ill, one in four adults and 20 percent of teenagers have some form of mental illness.

Try saying phrases like “I really feel uncomfortable that this happens,” “He’s very eccentric” or “I got a bad grade today. I am disappointed in myself.” By taking the mental illness, or mental disorder out of the phrase, you are no longer trivializing the illness or disorder and you make it seem much easier to deal with that it really is.

There are many people who do try and help by saying things like “You have depression? Just smile more.” Or “You have anxiety? You’ve got to face your fears; just go out and do what makes you anxious.” Believe me, if we could, we would. However, our illnesses and disorders prevent us from being able to do the things that others can do. If we could cure mental illnesses by doing the things we cannot do, mental illness wouldn’t be a problem. The cure for depression would be to go and watch a comedy video. The cure for anxiety would be going into a large crowd.

If you want to help someone with mental illness, the best thing to do is to listen to them. Listen to their struggles and listen to what they have to say about how you can help. They know their illness best.

If you think you or someone you know has mental illness, contact Student Health and Counselling Services to make an appointment with a therapist.