5 ways to help someone struggling with mental illness

By Allie Page, Opinions Editor

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Mental health is an overlooked aspect of an individual’s overall health, especially in this hectic 21st Century society. Awareness, acceptance and support can have a wonderful effect on these people’s outlooks.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 18.5 percent of U.S. adults – or about one in five people – experience mental illness within a particular year. 18.1 percent experience anxiety, and 6.9 percent experience major depressive episodes. Additionally, 21.4 percent of youth and 4 percent of adults experience disorders that affect major life activities.
If your friend, family member or significant other is one of them, here are a few ways you can help.

1. Start the conversation.
The best way to learn about people’s struggles is by talking to them. Set aside some time to have a conversation about mental health – that way, you can learn more about what they’re going through and what they need. Show your concern, ask about what is going on, and express that you care.
According to MentalHealth.gov, talking about mental health issues can result in better recognitions of symptoms, sooner treatment and better understanding. Of course, the conversation should flow naturally, and one should approach it empathetically, respectfully and open-mindedly.

2. Avoid invalidation and judgment.
Never downplay or belittle someone with a mental disorder, including “mild” ones like depression or anxiety. Do not tell them that their problems are no big deal. Avoid saying that the issue is “all in your head” – where else would the brain be?
Above all, do not tell people dealing with their mental health that they should just “get over it.” According to New York-based therapist Sherry Amatenstein, these messages trivialize and shame people, and they are no different from telling someone with a cast to get up and walk.
Instead, Amatenstein recommends using supportive language, such as “This must be so hard for you” or “I’m here for you,” which brings us to the next point.

3. Spend some time with them.
Humans are social animals – even introverts need support and interaction from time to time. According to Psychology Today, social interaction decreases depression and improves one’s mental well-being and mood.
This goes beyond talking about life – spending time together in general will help. It can be something simple, like going out for coffee or dinner, or it can be something more, like a weekend trip. As long as it is something you both enjoy doing, it can solidify a sense of love and belonging. In a nutshell, be there.

4. Do some research.
You might be familiar with the exaggerated Hollywood versions of mental illnesses. For example, people might think of Tourette syndrome as a “swearing disorder,” even though frequent swearing only occurs in a minority of sufferers, according to the Tourette Association. The same thing applies for the many misconceptions about autism, which is called “the spectrum” for a reason.
The cure for misinformation is proper information. Spend some time researching the condition to gain some insight into the symptoms, causes and possible treatments.

5. Don’t look at them any differently.
Don’t stigmatize or ostracize them when you find out. Don’t view them as “crazy,” “broken” or “degenerate.” While it is important to gain a new sense of understanding and talk about the issues – treat your friends as the same human beings that they were before you found out they were dealing with mental health issues. Again, this ties into the overarching theme of this piece – be there for them.