As much as we may want to “rescue” or be a savior for someone when they seem to be suffering, trying to wrestle control of a situation we don’t fully understand can be very dangerous.
The important first step is to do our research, get educated, and see how we can be of assistance as well as get assistance for ourselves, because you are going to need support, too.
If you have a colleague, friend or loved one who is suffering with mental illness, here’s some ways to (and not to) help.
Learn as much as possible about their illness. That doesn’t just mean asking them (but of course be available to listen if they want to talk) but also do your research.
You may want to research local mental health associations to learn about what mental illness feels like and looks like and the road to recover. It’s also a way to talk to other people who have gone through it so they can tell you how you can best be there for your friend. Power up your Netflix and watch some mental health-focused documentaries or download some informative books on your Kindle.
Ask how you can help
Don’t just assume or guess the right way to help. That can make things worse or harder for them.
It’s possible that it will be hard for them to explain to you what they need or what will be helpful, but even the act of asking how you could be more supportive will show you understand that you DON’T understand, and it lets them have the power to explain what they are going through and tell you what they do and don’t want from you.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep though, because they might already be feeling isolated. Be honest with what you can do to help and keep the conversation going.
Listen and provide emotional support
People don’t always need or want you to save them or fix them, they often just want you to listen to them. Sometimes just listening and being there can go a long way.
Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” — Karl A. Menniger
Have realistic expectations
We’d all love for our loved one to be better overnight, but they most likely will not be. Expecting change super fast is an additional stress that can lead to setbacks, rather than improvements. Set small goals, and be happy and grateful when they happen.
Seek counseling for yourself
You are going through something too, and you may not want to accept help because you are currently spending all your emotional energy giving help. But you can’t help others if you don’t take care of yourself, too.
Check support groups for friends or family members
Your community mental health centers or doctor probably knows of support groups for friends and family. Don’t be afraid to talk to people who are in a similar position to you. They can give you support, and you can give some to them as well.