How To Support Someone With a Mental Illness

Mental illness is really common, which is why it’s so important to develop a good understanding of what it means to live with a mental illness. By understanding and educating ourselves about mental illness, we can better support our friends and family, as well as better supporting ourselves.

One in four Australians experience some form of mental illness in the average year, meaning all of us are likely to have known or will know someone suffering. This phenomenon is most common among young people, with 50% of mental health problems starting before the age of 15, and 75% before the age of 25.

So, here are 10 key things we all can do to support loved one living with mental illness:

1. Educate yourself.

In order to understand the severity and complexity of someone’s condition you must first understand the illness they are suffering from. Though mental illness affects everyone differently, by understanding the nature and symptoms of the condition you will be better equipped to help those suffering.

To find out more about different types of mental illness click here.

2. Encourage them to seek help.

It is important to be supportive of your loved one, but also to recognise that they may need help that you alone cannot provide. Going to the doctor does not make you a burden and taking medication is not a sign of weakness. These are facts that both sufferers and supporters must understand.

For information about seeking professional help click here.

3. Be respectful, not controlling.

Each person’s mental state is unique, and it is ultimately up to the individual as to what treatment and support they seek. It’s fine to encourage someone to seek help, but if you try to force them into something against their will, it might do more harm than good. They probably already feel like they have a lack of control over their condition, so by showing respect for their ability to make their own decisions will help to re-establish their sense of control and self-worth.

To learn how to support someone who doesn’t want help click here.

4. Don’t patronise or belittle the situation.

Never use phrases like “I know how you feel” when talking to someone with a mental illness. Trying to relate to someone in this circumstance does not create a supportive environment but rather implies a lack of understanding and appreciation for what they’re going through. Similarly, saying “you’ll get over it” simply dismisses the seriousness and reality of the situation. Mental illness is often something a person must learn to live with or manage, rather than overcome or cure.

Depression, for example, is not just a person deciding to feel sad – it is condition beyond the control of the sufferer, and can vary in severity. Serious mental illnesses can be just as debilitating as physical sicknesses.

5. Establish equality and inclusion.

A mental illness of any kind is serious and should be acknowledged, but it does not define a person. It should not be the focal point of every conversation, nor should it cause a person to be treated differently. There is still a great deal of stigma around mental health and this often prevents those suffering from speaking openly about their experience or seeking help. By battling this discrimination against mental illness we can create a more educated and compassionate society, and therefore more support for those who need it.

Check out the Stand Up For Mental Health Australia program using comedy to fight stigma here.

Image from

6. Be realistic but still positive.

Often when someone has spent time in hospital or health facility, or has been prescribed medication to combat their condition, there is an expectation (whether it be from family, friends or themselves) that they will be cured of their illness. Mental illness is often something a person will struggle without throughout their life and we must be realistic about this. However, being positive and hopeful about your loved one’s recovery can benefit their ability to cope with and manage their condition, and maintain a successful, functional and happy life.

For more information on recovery and managing anxiety or depression click here.

7. Recognise signs of relapse.

There will be high points and low points of every mental health experience, and it’s important to recognise the onset of those low points.Warning signs may include acts such as change of mood or behaviour, withdrawal from friendships or relationships, and substance abuse. If you become aware of these things do not ignore the issue, reach out and let your concerns be known. Relapse is not a sign of failure, but of struggle.

For more warning signs of relapse click here.

8. Be persistent.

If a person you know who is suffering from a mental illness stops replying to your messages or invites do not give up on them! Letting them know you still care is vital in combating their sense of loneliness and self-depreciation. Isolating one’s self is often a symptom of mental illness not personality. Be persistent in re-establishing their self-value.

9. Listen.

This one is so important! Let the person know that you are willing to listen to and appreciate their experience. Just talking honestly about their condition can have huge benefits for a person suffering. Encourage (don’t force!) them to talk openly with you to create a better understanding of the illness and ways you can support them.

To find out more about why talking is important click here

10. Don’t forget to take care of yourself!

Supporting someone with a mental illness is so important and necessary, but it can also be emotionally exhausting. Don’t forget to seek the support you need from friends, family or counselling. By taking care of yourself you will be more effective in helping of others.

For more information about looking after yourself click here.

For more information visit our page Mental Health.

If you are suffering from a mental illness and need help, support or just someone to talk to visit our page Support Services for a list of places you can contact.

Maddy Crehan

Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.

You might also be interested in these posts: