How to help someone with mental disorderThe prevalence of mental illness in the US effects almost everyone. Each year 43.8 million adults experience mental illness. Approximately 10 million of those people find their daily activities limited by that mental illness. The instance of mental illness co-occurring with addiction is about50.5%. Approximately 10.2 million Americans suffering from addiction also have a co-occurring mental illness.

43.8 million adults experience mental illness

The costs of untreated mental illnesses are high, as well. Mental illness accounts for approximately$193.2 billion in lost wages. On average, people with mental illnesses die 25 years earlier than others as a result of treatable physical illnesses. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, mostly as a result of
untreated mental illness.

It is extremely likely that you will know someone with a mental illness at some point in your lifetime. The best thing you can do for that person is to make sure she gets treatment. The social and emotional support you provide could make a big difference.

Helping Someone with a Mental Disorder Get Help

Trying to help a family member or friend with a mental illness is intimidating. It’s difficult to know what to say or how you can offer support. Because family support is at the core of recovery, it’s critical to know how you can help a loved one suffering from depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, panic attacks or any other mental illness.

When it comes to psychological disorders, knowledge is power and understanding.The more you know about mental health, the better equipped you’ll be to recognize signs of mental disorders and connect your loved one to professional help. The sooner your loved one receives counseling, therapy, and medication, the sooner he or she can begin a journey to recovery.

It is important to realize that a mental illness can only be diagnosed and treated by a qualified professional. No matter how much experience you have had with your own mental disorders, you cannot diagnose someone else’s problem. In fact, even people with the specific qualifications required are not in a good position to diagnose a loved one and need an outside opinion.

It is possible to recognize issues that indicate your loved one may be suffering from a mental illness, though. Understanding some of the outward signs of trouble could help get her the treatment she needs faster. Some of the signs of mental illness include:

  • Loss of interest or energy for activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Reduced memory
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Increased suspicion or anxieties
  • Severe mood swings
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Unusual behavior

If you notice some of these behavior changes in a loved one, she may be suffering from a mental disorder. If she is not being treated, it is a good idea to suggest she seek help from a licensed mental health practitioner. Sometimes people don’t see the changes in their own behavior, or they don’t realize the changes are pronounced enough to be recognized by others. Gently pointing out your concerns could motivate your loved one to take the next step.

When you are ready to bring the subject of mental illness up with your loved one, you will want to lead with your concern. Explain that you are concerned because of some behaviors you have noticed and then give specific examples of those behaviors. Go slow and try not to pile on a hundred examples.

If you are reluctant to involve a mental health professional, you might suggest your loved one go to her own doctor with these concerns. You could offer to go with her to help explain the issues, but do not insist. If her medical doctor suggests further evaluation, your loved one might be more receptive to the idea.

Most importantly, do not over react, lecture, of insist. Ultimately, unless a person is in imminent physical danger, she needs to submit to therapy on her own. You want to keep the lines of communication open, so she feels comfortable coming to you if and when she decides she may need professional help.

communication can help

Talking to Someone with a Mental Disorder

Mental disorders are scary. No matter what the illness, the causes, or the symptoms, it is frightening to realize that your brain is not working the way it used to or the way it is intended. The natural human reaction to fear is avoidance and denial. It is no wonder that many people suffering from mental illnesses do not get the treatment they need.

Mental illness also has a stigma attached to it in our society. People are reluctant to talk about their condition even after it is diagnosed for fear of ridicule or being ostracized. There is a lot of fear and ignorance surrounding medical conditions that people cannot see or understand. Most people understand the limitations of a person with a broken leg, but they may not offer the same level of accommodations to someone suffering from addiction, a wound they cannot see.

In today’s culture, many people look down on psychological issues. It’s important for you to counter these negative attitudes and recognize your loved one’s courage for seeking treatment. Be sure to stay calm, convey hope and show support during every stage of recovery. If you have a loved one suffering from a mental illness, one of the best things you can do is talk to her. By bringing mental illness out of the closet, you can help normalize it. We cannot fix what we are not able to talk about. By showing your loved one that you are not afraid to talk with her about her condition, you show sympathy for her and support for her efforts to heal.

Know the difference between talking and lecturing, however. No one enjoys a personal lecture, especially when she is sick. Accept that mental illness is a disease, not a choice or a character flaw. When talking to a loved one about her mental disorder, you need to do a lot of listening. Give her an opportunity to voice what she is feeling and listen without judgement.

Your role in helping someone with a mental illness is support. Nothing you say, no matter how informed and profound, will cure the disease. You can offer emotional support, however, by providing a safe and comfortable environment to talk and be heard.

Know what to say. Or better yet, know what not to say. Because someone with a mental health issue is not in a healthy state of mind, insensitive words can become hurtful, even if you meant to be helpful. You might think your words are neutral, but someone in a vulnerable place might misconstrue them as cruel. It can be difficult to find the right comments to make, so think twice before you speak. This is why it’s so critical to seek professional therapy and care.
Here are some statements to avoid when talking to a loved one about her mental illness:

Don’t you want to get better?

Everyone with a mental illness wants to get better. The implication here is that she could get better if she wanted to. If it were that easy, mental illness would not require professional treatment.

Just get on with your life and stop focusing on the bad parts.

Ignoring mental illness does not make it go away. The debilitating emotions that accompany most of these conditions are impossible to overcome without help. This statement also implies that she created the problem. No one purposely brings mental illness on herself.

ignoring mental illness does not make it go away

Everyone feels that way sometimes.

This is a well-meaning way to empathize, but it is not true. People with mental illness experience emotions differently than the rest of the population. You may have been sad before, but that is nothing compared to clinically diagnosed depression.

If you had something to do, the distraction would be good for you.

There is no way to distract yourself from the effects of mental illness. In fact, it works the other way around. In the extreme, the illness distracts you from being able to function. It is nearly impossible to explain to anyone who has not experienced it before, but the emotional effects of mental illness can make it impossible to get out of bed.

How to Help Someone with Mental Health Issues

Talking, and listening, is a good start, but there are some other things you can do.

Be involved during treatment. If your loved one is being treated for a dual diagnosis in an addiction rehab facility, it’s important that you stay connected.Family counseling will help you understand the current situation while showing your loved one that you care. Ask the counselors and treatment team how you can help and stay involved.

Here are some other ways to help someone with mental health issues:

Educate yourself

Learn everything you can about mental illness and the specific condition your loved one is dealing with. It is best to seek information from reputable sources like the local mental health association or the National Alliance on Mental Health rather than relying on other people’s opinions and hearsay. Do your research online where there is plenty of credible information or in the library which has many books written on the subject. You may want to check psychology periodicals for more recent information about causes and treatment modalities. The field of psychology is
continually changing with the publication of new studies. A clear understanding of the basic concepts of mental illness will help you sympathize with your loved one’s struggles. She will also feel your support by knowing that you took the time to work at understanding. Be sure not to use your new knowledge against her, however. Remember that what you learn about mental illness is for your edification, not an attempt to solve the problem. You do not want to ever present yourself as the authority on mental illness because you read some books and studies.

Ask the Right Questions

Your loved one is the expert on her own condition. Use her as a resource to understand what she is going through. Ask how she is feeling and just listen to the answer. Ask what you can do to support her efforts at healing. It is not your job to have the answers but rather to ask the right questions. People feel more supported when their input is sought rather then when random help is blindly offered.

Create Equality

People suffering from mental disorders feel broken and inadequate. Your loved one may naturally look at you as superior just because you are not in need of treatment. Every time you talk about the disease, you are in danger of bolstering her perception that you are the better person, you are well, you are whole.

Just because someone needs help, it does not mean that you are stronger or a better person. By establishing equality, you minimize feelings of shame, guilt or resentment. Remember, people with mental illnesses aren’t different from anyone else – they’re normal people who suffer from a serious brain disease just like people suffer from diabetes or heart disease.

Try to balance the scales by being humble about what you know about mental illness. Always defer to her opinion on how the treatment is working and do not take an authoritative tone. Make sure, too, that you talk about things not related to mental illness. Bring up topics that allow her to assert her expertise. Help her to see that having a mental illness does not mean she is inferior to you.

Be Patient

Mental illness does not just go away with a pill or a couple therapy sessions. It deals with the complicated inner workings of the brain and the relationship between emotions and behaviors. These are not issues that can be changed quickly.

Realize, too, that your loved one will have good and bad days. You may recognize some sort of regression in her behavior. She could seem to be making progress on certain issues and then display behaviors that suggest she has not made any progress. It may seem like she is going backward.

Understand that mental illness is a complex condition that will not resolve in a linear fashion. Some days will be worse than the previous days, and, then, there may be days when it seems like there is nothing wrong at all. Do not try to pass judgement on your loved one’s progress. As long as she is continuing treatment, accept whatever behavior you see as where she is today.

Take Care of Yourself

When supporting a loved one who is struggling with mental illness, it is easy to lose sight of your own well-being. If you get tired and stressed out, though, it will be much harder to offer the support and encouragement your loved one needs from you.

don't lose sight of your well-being

The emotions that will arise as you support your loved one through her illness need an outlet. If you share them with your loved one, they could upset her making it harder for her to deal with her illness. You need your own counseling, so you can vent your fear and anger at the situation without exacerbating it.

Even caregivers need help. Make sure that you’re in a healthy state of mind. After all, you can only give back when you yourself are in a healthy place. Keep tabs on your physical, emotional and spiritual health as you support your loved one during this process.

Know Your Limitations

No matter how much you love someone, you cannot save her from mental illness. She requires professional treatment and her own hard work. Avoid your loving instinct to try to fix her problems. You can show her support and love, but she has to want to get better and follow the professional guidance she is given.

Offering Help in a Crisis Situation

Even if your loved one is receiving treatment for her mental illness, it is possible that a crisis could arise. You want to do everything you can to avoid getting to this point. Keep in communication with her about her condition, and notify her counselor if you see any danger signs.

In a crisis situation, when you reasonably think danger is imminent, there are some steps you can take to achieve a more positive outcome:

  • Dial 911 as soon as possible to get help on the way. Do not worry about false alarms. It is better to have the help and not need it than the other way
  • Always stay calm and keep your voice low. Shouting at someone with a mental illness who is having some type of episode will only escalate the situation.
    If she is not listening, she may be hearing other voices.
  • Recognize that he may be seeing and hearing things that you are not. She is probably terrified and may act out her hallucinations. All you can do is try
    to keep her from hurting herself or others until help arrives.
  • Stay with the person but avoid physical contact. You do not want her to feel restrained or threatened in any way. Avoid postures that would indicate
    dominance, like standing while she is sitting.
  • Allow her some reasonable control over the situation by granting any harmless requests. Do not leave the room, but comply with simple requests like
    turning on the fan or giving her a drink of water.
  • Avoid arguing with other family members over what to do next or who’s fault this is. Keep everyone calm until the crisis can be resolved.
  • Treating a mental disorder is never easy, but you can make it better by recognizing the signs of mental health problems and connecting your loved one to
    professional help.


One of the best things you can do for anyone suffering from a mental illness is connect her with the professional help offered at Voyage. Our compassionate counselors and therapists are experienced in helping families cope with mental illnesses. At this difficult time, it is comforting to know you are not alone, and neither is your loved one. Call Voyage today and let us guide you to a healthy, happy life.

At Voyage, our counselors and therapists have years of experience helping loved ones and their families work through co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders. Get help for your friend or family member at 800-493-5253 today.