How to treat people with mental illnesses

The purpose of this article is to help spread knowledge and acceptance towards mental illnesses and how to react to them. Too often, in fact, we don’t know how to react to people with depression or anxiety, and end up both making our friends feel uncomfortable and feeling weird ourselves.

Let’s make it clear, as a beginning, that there are a lot of different mental illnesses and that every person has their own way of feeling, and, as a consequence, even if we have had experiences with mental illnesses, we should never feel entitled to judge someone.

Here are some tips on how to act with people going through something rough:

  • Don’t judge. I don’t care if you had depression yourself, if you’re a cancer survivor or if you think you’ve had it worse. People are different and react differently, never ever should you feel entitled to judge someone you know nothing about.
  • Be open and listen if they need to talk. At times, the simple act of listening to them can make people feel valued and loved. You never know how important it can be for someone to just have a friend’s comprehension.
  • Don’t give advice if they don’t ask you for it. I know this may look like a weird suggestion, but most people with mental illnesses know what they should be doing, they just don’t have the energy to do it. Do not ever say anything like: “You just need to eat”, or “You would get over this if you went outside more often”: it’s extremely painful to hear something like that, believe me.
  • Do not belittle the problem, no matter how little it looks to you. You’re not them, remember it.
  • Don’t point out what’s worse. Some people automatically do it: when they hear of someone’s problems, they feel the need to point out that there are worse situations. Ever heard anything like: “Come on, there are literally people out there dying because they cannot get access to food”? Yeah, same. This is toxic, remember it and avoid it.
  • Do not force people into doing things they don’t feel like doing. It’s nice to be propositive, but if the answer is no, don’t try to change it. This surely has some exceptions, in particular when trying to help someone get into therapy, however, let’s make it clear that forcing your anorexic friend to eat that slice of pizza will only make the situation worse.
  • Suggest them to see a psychologist. Don’t force them into doing it, but point out the positive aspects of such a decision and be supportive if they decide to go for it. Say that you can go with them the first few times if they need to, or offer your help with calling and getting there.
  • Check on your friends once in a while. We all have a busy life, but, if you don’t find time for your friends, can you really call them so? Try to check more often on those friends of yours whose behaviour looks so weird lately, and make sure they know they can always count on you.
  • Remember not to be too present. It’s really nice if you decide to help people who need it, but don’t jump into their lives at any possible moment. Remember people need their privacy and their time alone: understand it and act consequentely.
  • Remeber about yourself. Don’t let all your energy sink into a toxic behaviour: it’s good to help, anyway, if you feel like you’re getting too involved, remember to take a step back and care about yourself.

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