MH@H Mental Health

Mental Illness: How to Be Supportive

How to be supportive of someone with mental illness

I recently wrote about how not to be supportive of someone with mental illness, and someone commented suggesting I do a post on how to be supportive.  So here it is.  This topic has been done many times before by many different people, so I doubt I’m coming up with anything particularly original, but here’s my two cents.

Validate, validate, and validate some more. When you think you’ve validated enough, keep on validating until you’re blue in the face. I need to hear that it’s okay to feel and experience what I’m feeling and experiencing. Even if it feels like it’s encouraging negativity, it’s not; it’s making space for what’s already there without any judgments. The world has far too many judgments, and no one needs more of those when it comes to their mental illness.

“That really sucks”
 Don’t minimize, don’t sugarcoat.  Call a spade a spade.  Depression sucks ass. This is a simple form of validation that recognizes that someone is having a hard time.

“You don’t need to respond but I’ll keep messaging you unless you tell me to stop.”
When I get depressed, I isolate.  I hide from the world, and I think everyone most likely hates me as much as I hate myself.  If I’m feeling low, chances are I won’t respond to a message, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important for me to receive it.  If it feels like someone gets that, it means a lot.

Offer hugs
Okay, this one depends a lot on your relationship with the person. If it’s not close, best not to go in for the hug. But if it’s a relationship that has involved hugging in the past, there’s something soothing about physical contact, and it’s something I get very little of. The person may decline, but the gesture of offering still counts.

Recognize that 1:1 socializing is hard enough and anything more than that isn’t going to happen.
I remember a time someone sprung a group lunch on me when I was prepared for just the two of us. I was overwhelmed and very, very unimpressed. Social interaction can be very hard work, and pacing is important.

If you promise or suggest something, follow through.
If you suggest we should get together next week, I don’t necessarily have any interest in doing that. Still, if I then don’t hear another word from you about it, I may think you hate me.  Ok maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

What are some of the things you would like people to do when you’re not feeling well?

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38 thoughts on “Mental Illness: How to Be Supportive”

  1. Thank you so much for this! When I first started writing a Blog I mentioned some of these things but time went by, years actually, and I became used to the isolation and how people treated me. I didn’t think I should have to “ask” for hugs or human contact until I found myself crying at a hair salon one day. I realized no one had touched me with kindness in over a year and couldn’t stop crying as she shampooed and massaged my head. Good thing I had known her for 10 years or I would’ve been embarrassed. My family has validated what I’ve been through and still struggle with maybe 3 times in my life. No one expects me to socialize and they don’t ask. I’m extremely sensitive to suggestions or if someone says they’re going to do something then don’t. That’s my fault. I say what I mean and mean what I say but I can’t expect the rest of the World to do the same. It isn’t possible. It’s sad that I have no expectations at all from anyone. I think it will hurt less that way but when it’s family it hurts most of all. You reminded me I deserve more. I’m still a person.

  2. This is a great list although I have no social interaction anymore and could care less if I talk to anyone (That sounds terrible). I am finally doing something for myself and I have to be alone to do so. I get distracted too easily. But when I am feeling down I wish someone would just sit in silence with me. Scratch my back, cook and watch a movie with me. They don’t have to cook per say but feeding me is the way to my happiness.

  3. Hugs are difficult for me. I’m not a huggy person and feel awkward and uncomfortable if forced into a hug, as sometimes happens. It’s hard to back out tactfully. This has become a lot more common in recent years in the once repressed and non-tactile UK!

  4. Also: listen. Really listen.

    Don’t lecture me on what I should do. If you really think you have something helpful to say, make a suggestion, but accept that I have a right to turn it down for reasons that may seem silly or trivial to you. Don’t lecture me on what I should be doing to turn my life around.

  5. Thanks for the pingback!! YAY!! Great post!! Fun Internet hugs to you!! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I like your thoughts on validation. I tend to be a “problem solver” so it’s hard for me to just be like, “Yeah, that really bites,” but sometimes that’s the thing to do!! I’m going to try to internalize what you’re saying here about constant validation. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I love that validate was the first one you wrote; and almost every following bullet point was some extension of validating the person’s feelings. I really think there is no substitute for finding a way to let someone else know their thoughts and feelings are meaningful and okay to exist. Validating them doesn’t mean we don’t want to help them heal, but that we acknowledge they are there and they hurt. I equally need to know that I have a right to my feelings, because I don’t know how to feel anything else.

  7. Great post. Some things I’ve found helpful/necessary when I’m really struggling, all designed to keep from being overwhelmed: don’t offer too many choices, I need company but don’t want to feel pressured to participate, and allow me an exit strategy. When I’m depressed I find it really difficult to make decisions and have for example ended up in tears over lunch because it was just too hard to pick something from the menu (omg what if I made the “wrong” choice?). Sometimes interacting with people is too much, but I still want company, and I love just sitting quietly in the corner while everyone else is doing their stuff. And if it all gets too much, I need to be able to leave. If you are giving me a lift, that means we need to have an agreement in place that when I say I need to leave, it means *now*, not after you’ve spent another 45 minutes finding everyone and saying long goodbyes.

  8. I couldn’t agree with you more. The very first time I was told my feelings were validated was when I arrived in the hospital, and my therapist. It was at that very moment I realized I wasn’t crazy. I did, however, learn that I was mentally ill. But there was finally a reason, and I was learning more and more about my mental illness. My ex-fiance’ made me believe that I was crazy, or insane. Then again, that’s what a narcissist does. Builds you up, breaks you down.
    Great post!

  9. I think these are great ways to be supportive, and I definitely agree on the follow-through as well, otherwise you can leave the other person feeling as though what you’ve said/suggested was a bit empty otherwise. Great post! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Caz x

  10. I donโ€™t think it matters how many times itโ€™s been said, it still needs to be said. Thank you for sharing, unfortunately some people still struggle to support others who are having a hard time with their mental health, so the more posts sharing how to do so the better in my opinion.

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