Two friends sitting outside

How to Help Someone Struggling with Mental Illness

Jul 14, 2020

If someone close to you is struggling with their mental health, you may not know what to do or what to say. Reaching out may seem intimidating. You may not even feel qualified to help. 

These feelings are completely normal. It’s great that you want to help your friend or loved one get better, but at Guild, we understand how stressful being in that situation can be. However, reaching out and being there for your loved one is the most important thing you can do for them. Mental illness can be isolating. Those affected often feel like they’re all alone or that no one understands them. By being present and open to talking with them, you are showing them that they are not alone. 

Look for Warning Signs

There are many different mental illnesses and symptoms can vary widely from person to person. That said, there are some common warning signs.

You may notice that your loved one:

  • Is losing interest in activities they used to enjoy.
  • Is tired frequently.
  • Has low self-confidence.
  • Appears irritable or has difficulty concentrating.
  • Seems nervous or on edge.
  • Has panic attacks.
  • Sees things that others don’t see.
  • Has changes in eating patterns.
  • Sleeps too often or not enough.
  • Misses work or school more often.
  • Avoids friends and family.

If you notice concerning changes like those listed above in your friend or loved one’s behavior, it may be a good idea to reach out to them. While those are some of the most common symptoms, there are other warning signs for mental illness, so be sure to trust your gut. If you feel like something is off, it usually is. 

What Can I do to Help?

Reach out. If you’re concerned about a friend or family member’s mental health, it may be helpful to check in with them. Though this may seem scary or uncomfortable, it can help your friend or family member feel less alone. Even though they may deny it in the moment, they will know that you are a safe person to talk with when they are ready.

Start the conversation.

There are many different ways you can gently introduce the topic:

  • Mention something you’ve noticed about their behavior and ask if they’re doing okay. 
    • Example: “I’ve noticed you haven’t been eating very much lately. Is everything going okay?”
  • Ask how you can help them. 
    • Example: “I know you’re going through a rough time. Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • Show you’re there for them.
    • Example: “Let me know if you ever want to talk. I’m always here.”
  • They may be embarrassed about their illness, ashamed, or confused. They may not be ready to talk about it. Let them lead the conversation and determine what they want to talk about. Let them know you’re there to listen.

Listen without judgment. Give them space to talk. People with mental illness can isolate themselves because they don’t think people will understand or fear rejection. Internalized and societal stigma can contribute to that feeling of being alone. Let your friend or family member know that you are there, no matter what they say.

An important part of listening is validating that person’s feelings. Don’t blame your friend for their illness or tell them it’s “just in their head.” Being dismissive can make them feel worse. Instead, validate that their mental illness is not their fault and that what they’re feeling is real. 

Be calm and patient, and ask open-ended questions to encourage them to share what they want to say. Listen carefully and respect their feelings. You can also ask what you can do to help them. 

Offer Support. Your friend or family member may want help finding resources. Asking what you can do to help them is a good first step. You can help them make appointments, or even accompany them to appointments if they wish. You can offer to help remind your friend to stick with their treatment and take their medications. You can also encourage your friend to keep healthy habits and make choices that support their mental health. If you aren’t sure where to start, call our Community Access team at (651) 925-8490. We can help you find out what services and options are available to your loved one. 

Additional Resources

Talking about mental illness is hard. But it’s the first step to getting better. There may be times when your friend or family member needs resources beyond what you can give them.  This is okay! If that’s the case and someone you love is severely struggling with mental illness or experiencing suicidal urges, contact 911 or your local crisis center immediately. For other immediate resources, view our “Get Help Now” page.

If your loved one isn’t listening to you but has a treatment team,  encourage them to reach out to their team. If you aren’t sure where to turn, Guild provides mental health services. Call us at (651) 925-8490 to get help for your loved one today.



How to Help a Friend, National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

For Friends and Family Members, 

Seeking Help for a Mental Health Problem, 

Reaching In, National Alliance on Mental Illness.