How to help someone you know with a mental health illness

How to help someone you know with a mental health illness

Friday, 22nd of September

How to help someone you know with a mental health illness

How to help someone you know with a mental health illness

What are mental health illnesses?

Mental health illnesses includes a wide range of mental health conditions — these are disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Some examples of mental health illnesses include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and addictive behaviours.

Having ‘a bad day’ is not the same as mental health illness. Mental health illnesses are when you have continuous signs and symptoms causing frequent stress and affecting your ability to function properly. it's when that 'bad day' turns in to a 'bad every day'.

A mental illness can definitely make you feel miserable and can cause severe problems in your daily life, such as at school or work or in relationships – for some people, it affects every aspect of their life and they can become bedbound.

Why should I care?

Did you know?
1 in 5 people in the UK suffers from a mental health illness and 70% of those feel embarrassed about getting help – they tend to deny that they suffer from a mental health illness.

Did you also know?

50% of mental health problems are present by age 14 and 75% by age 24! Wow!

Neither did I until I realised someone who I know suffers from a mental health illness. Here are some things you can do to help a friend, or someone you know, with a mental health illness.


Educate yourself

First things first: educate yourself! Do some research. Do not assume that you know about a mental health condition, or that a particular person is going through it (unless you are a qualified doctor/psychiatrist) because chances are, you probably do not know much about it – there’s no shame in learning! Also do not assume you know what the person is going through and do not give them advice that will make them want to turn away from you – that’s the least thing they need right now.


A few of the most common types of mental health disorders and symptoms


Depression is a mental health condition where the person has an ongoing low mood, and/or may lose interest in activities and in extreme cases even life itself.

Symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts


Anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorder is a term that includes different conditions:

  • Panic disorder. You feel random alerts of terror that strikes at any random point in time. When experiencing a panic attack, you may also sweat, have chest pain, and feel heart palpitations(unusually strong or irregular heartbeats). Sometimes you may feel like you’re constantly falling without hitting the ground.
  • Social anxiety disorder. This is when you feel overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. You fixate about others judging you or on being embarrassed or ridiculed.
  • Specific phobias. You feel intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as heights or flying or sea creatures (a fear of mine!). The fear goes beyond what’s normal and may cause you to feel physically unwell.

All anxiety disorders share some general symptoms:

  • Panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Sleep problems
  • Not being able to stay calm and still
  • Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations


Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health illness that mainly affects a person’s mood. If you have bipolar disorder, you are very likely to have times where you may experience:

  • manic or hypomanic episodes (feeling high)
  • depressive episodes (feeling low)
  • potentially some psychotic symptoms during manic or depressed episodes

Bipolar disorder symptoms include episodes of mania and depression. Each often lasts for several days, weeks or months at a time and then switches to the other episode - it really is an ongoing spout of different emotions, it's difficult to predict what you will feel on a certain day.


  • feeling sad, hopeless or irritable most of the time
  • lacking energy
  • difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • loss of interest in everyday activities
  • feelings of emptiness or worthlessness
  • feelings of guilt and despair
  • feeling pessimistic about everything
  • self-doubt
  • being delusional, having hallucinations and disturbed or illogical thinking
  • lack of appetite
  • difficulty sleeping
  • waking up early
  • suicidal thoughts


The manic phase of bipolar disorder may include:

  • feeling very happy, elated or overjoyed
  • talking very quickly
  • feeling full of energy
  • feeling self-important
  • feeling full of great new ideas and having important plans
  • being easily distracted
  • being easily irritated or agitated
  • being delusional, having hallucinations and disturbed or illogical thinking
  • not feeling like sleeping
  • not eating
  • doing things that often have disastrous consequences – such as spending large sums of money on expensive and sometimes unaffordable items
  • making decisions or saying things that are out of character and that others see as being risky or harmful



Similar to the above, ask your friend if they are ok as you may have noticed changes in their behaviour. Before giving them any advice, just listen to what they have to say, without interrupting or suggesting.


What to say and what not to say


Let them know that they can talk to you without fear of judgement.


Tell them what they are feeling ‘will just go away’.


Spend time with them as much as possible (preferably outdoors) them being around you, will help them feel much better.


Get frustrated. Remember their symptoms are not personal, and remember they have nothing against you.


Be proud of them when they improve.


Bring up or remind them of their illness. Nobody wants to go through that, the more you bring it up, the worse they will feel.


Encourage them to get professional help

This may be hard fror them if they still haven’t accepted the fact that they have a mental health illness. As we found out earlier 70% of those with a mental health illness are too embarrased to get help, let them know that it is ok and that with help they will get better. In extreme cases this may be a necessity.


Take care of yourself

It is crucial that you take care of yourself whilst helping someone else out. Do not feel guilty if your attempts at helping your friend don’t work, you are not required to heal them, as a friend, you can only support and help them. Helping someone else out, at times, can be quite daunting and stressful. It is important that you make time to take care of your own mental health – remember that prevention is better than cure!


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