There will come a time when someone with mental illness needs your help—or more specifically your comfort, your reassurance, and your support. Are you prepared for this moment? Or perhaps you’ve already been there and felt uncertain about what to say or do for someone dealing with depression, anxiety, stress, suicidal thoughts, or something else that is afflicting them.
Whichever the case, it’s important to be prepared for the next time your friend needs you. So what are some words that are okay to say? What will help get them through this hard time? Here are a few things to say that can be useful for most people struggling with a mental illness:
1) “I’m here for you.”
Four simple words that go a long way. Mental illnesses have a way of making people will hopeless, misunderstood, and lonely. So let your friend know that you’re there for them—you might not understand exactly what they’re going through, but you can still be whatever they need you to be: a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or even just the friend they know and love. It will help them so much just to know they have a strong support system rallying behind them.
2) “You’re not alone.”
Saying, “You’re not alone,” can make all the difference. While it’s important to remind your friend that you’ll be there every step of the way with them, you should also remind them that everybody faces difficult battles. For them, it’s their mental illness, which so many others also experience. And for someone else it might be family strife or a terrible accident. The point is that everybody struggles and it is a sign of growth—despite how difficult the journey might be. Help them realize that they can overcome these hardships, just like so many others.
3) “You are worthy and deserving.”
Thanks to the many stigmas surrounding mental illness, mental health conditions sometimes make affected individuals feel weird or unworthy. This, however, is just not the case. Remind your friend that their mental illness does not define them, nor does it make them any less of a person. They deserve success and happiness, just like the rest of us. And hearing that stressed by an honest and trustworthy friend can make all the difference.
4) “You don’t have to apologize.”
Every mental illness has its side effects and its symptoms. Depression, for example, can make someone feel hopeless, irritable, and tired, while bipolar disorder may cause one to act erratically. Those with these disorders or any given disorder often feel guilty for acting this way and, therefore, inclined to apologize over and over again for their behavior or unpleasant moods. But telling them they don’t have to apologize shows them that you accept them and their mental illness, and you understand that it is outside of their control.
5) “There is treatment available to you…”
…and I will help you explore those options, if you want me to. The truth is that while you may be an extremely trustworthy and supportive friend, there are others more qualified to listen and guide them through this difficult process, which is exactly why you should encourage them to find a support group or counselor who can provide more meaningful advice and insight. You might feel like this is overstepping your boundaries, but it is usually appropriate and helpful to talk through these treatment options with your friend. Now remember: It’s important to approach this kind of conversation with kindness and patience. And you should always use discernment and tact to determine whether or not what you’re about to say is appropriate.
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