There may come a time when someone with a mental illness — like depression, anxiety, or PTSD — needs your help. While mental health conditions require proper treatment from a mental health professional like a counselor or psychiatrist, you can provide help in the form of comfort, reassurance, and support.
Are you prepared for this moment? For the moment when a friend or family member says, “I’m feeling really depressed and alone,” or, “My anxiety is through the roof and it’s making life really hard.” It’s okay if the answer is no. Maybe you’ve already been here and felt uncertain about how to respond. This isn’t an easy situation to be in, and you may need additional support yourself if a loved one is struggling with a mental illness, but if you’d like to try to offer the individual the support that a loved one can provide, we’re here to help.
So, what are some words that are okay to say? What will help get your friend or family 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.”
These four simple words go a long way. Mental illnesses have a way of making people feel hopeless, misunderstood, and lonely. Simply letting your friend know that you’re there for them will make a world of difference—you might not understand exactly what they’re going through, but you can still be that 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 are not alone.”
This can be incredibly relieving to hear. It’s important to remind your friend that you’ll be there every step of the way with them. It can also be helpful to take this opportunity to share your own struggles — if you’ve struggled mentally and you feel comfortable opening up to them about it, this conversation can help your friend understand that other people are fighting similar battles. The goal here isn’t to make them feel bad or guilty for their struggle but to feel comforted by the fact that they aren’t the only ones at war.
3) “You are worthy and deserving.”
Thanks to the many stigmas surrounding mental illness, mental health conditions sometimes make affected individuals feel unworthy or abnormal. 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. Also, share just how prevalent mental health issues are. Your loved one deserves success and happiness, just like the rest of the world. And hearing that from an honest, trustworthy friend can make all the difference.
4) “You don’t have to apologize.”
Every mental illness comes with unique symptoms and side effects. Depression, for example, can make someone feel hopeless, irritable, and tired, while bipolar disorder may cause one to experience extreme mood changes. 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 behaviors or emotions. 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…”
Followed by, “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 help 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.
6) “Let me know what you need.”
“We don’t always know exactly what others want or need in terms of support. Instead of mind-reading, just ask,” says Emily Simonian, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Head of Learning at Thriveworks. “They may not know what they want or need, and that’s okay too. Support might look like general companionship, watching a movie together, or checking in regularly via text.”