Three Things to Say to Someone with Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Awareness month. There is much stigma around Mental Illness and seeking support for mental health. It is relatively common for me to hear clients say things such as “I should be able to do this” or “I just need to get over it.”

We judge ourselves or others for the mental or emotional pain that feels invisible or hard to understand. It is often part of the journey of letting go of self-judgment. It is also challenging to know who to talk to or who to trust. The stigma of mental health supports secrecy, shame, and fear of talking about it, whether you are sharing or listening. You may not know what to say if a loved one approaches you about feelings of depression, anxiety, or another mental health concern.

Here are three things you can say to someone with Mental Illness or a mental health concern:

“That must be hard. I am here for you.” It is tough to talk about mental health for fear of stigma and judgment. It is hard to know how someone might respond, and it takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and open up to someone. Validating how someone feels can be powerful and help them feel acknowledged and worthy of support.
“How can I help?” Allow them to express what they would like or need. Sometimes advice or someone else’s perspective can be helpful, but sometimes it can feel like you are trying to fix or dismiss the concern. I can not count the times I have heard clients say, “I just wish they would listen.” Actively listening and asking open-ended questions can feel supportive. Repeating what you hear can help ensure you understood. You can try saying, “It sounds like you are saying/feeling __. Is this what you mean?” or ask more about “What can I do to be there for you?”
“Would you like help finding support?” You can offer to help them find more support. Support from another friend or family member, a group of people who have experienced something similar, or helping them schedule a doctor or therapy appointment. Allow them to decide and express what they need.
It’s Okay to Seek Support Yourself.
Witnessing or supporting a loved one going through Mental Illness is its own emotional, mental, or spiritual journey. You care deeply and may feel pain when you see them in pain. It can be hard to find the words to say or space for yourself to feel your emotions. Consider seeking some support for yourself too.

You Are Not Alone. Hear Others’ Personal Stories.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource. This year they shared, “For 2021’s Mental Health Awareness Month, NAMI will continue to amplify the message of “You Are Not Alone.” We will use this time to focus on the healing value of connecting in safe ways, prioritizing mental health, and acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay through NAMI’s blog, personal stories, videos, digital toolkits, social media engagements, and national events.”

Check out personal stories about mental health and know that you are not alone.

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