Tips For How to Help a Person with Mental Illness
Suggestions on how you may approach someone living with a mental health condition:
- Talk to them in a space that is comfortable, where you won’t likely be interrupted and where there are likely minimal distractions.
- Ease into the conversation, gradually. It may be that the person is not in a place to talk, and that is OK. Greeting them and extending a gentle kindness can go a long way. Sometimes less is more.
- Be sure to speak in a relaxed and calm manner.
- Communicate in a straightforward manner and stick to one topic at a time.
- Be respectful, compassionate and empathetic to their feelings by engaging in reflective listening, such as “I hear that you are having a bad day today. Yes, some days are certainly more challenging than others. I understand.”
- Instead of directing the conversation at them with ‘you’ statements, use ‘I’ statements instead.
- Be a good listener, be responsive and make eye contact with a caring approach.
- Ask them appropriate questions and avoid prying.
- Give them the opportunity to talk and open up but don’t press.
- Share some easy insights as a way of encouraging easy conversation, such as comments about the weather, the community or other.
- Reduce any defensiveness by sharing your feelings and looking for common ground.
- Speak at a level appropriate to their age and development level. Keep in mind that mental illness has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence.
- Be aware of a person becoming upset or confused by your conversation with them.
- Show respect and understanding for how they describe and interpret their symptoms.
- Genuinely express your concern.
- Offer your support and connect them to help if you feel that they need it. Ask, “How can I help?” if appropriate, or even, “Can I pray with you now?” if appropriate.
- Give the person hope for recovery, offer encouragement and prayers.
Things to Avoid Saying:
- “Just pray about it.”
- “You just need to change you’re attitude.”
- “Stop harping on the negative, you should just start living.”
- “Everyone feels that way sometimes.”
- “You have the same illness as my (whoever).”
- “Yes, we all feel a little crazy now and then.”
Things to Avoid Doing:
- Criticizing blaming or raising your voice at them.
- Talking too much, too rapidly, too loudly. Silence and pauses are ok.
- Showing any form of hostility towards them.
- Assuming things about them or their situation.
- Being sarcastic or making jokes about their condition.
- Patronizing them or saying anything condescending.