When someone you know is struggling with their mental health, it is sometimes hard to know what to say or do to make them feel completely supported. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and definitely don’t want them to feel like you don’t care about what they are going through.
If you are interested in finding out ways to support someone experiencing mental health issues keep reading!
Before we dive into how to be supportive, let’s go over the different types of mental disorders and common symptoms there are.
What Types of Mental Disorders Are There?
“If you have a mood disorder, your general emotional state or mood is distorted or inconsistent with your circumstances and interferes with your ability to function. You may be extremely sad, empty, or irritable (depressed), or you may have periods of depression alternating with being excessively happy (mania).”
A few examples of mood disorders are:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
“People with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).”
A few examples of anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”
A few examples of post-traumatic stress disorder are:
- Complex PTSD
- Comorbid PTSD
- Uncomplicated PTSD
“Eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions, and your ability to function in important areas of life.”
“Most eating disorders involve focusing too much on your weight, body shape, and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviors. “
A few examples of eating disorders are:
- Binge Eating
“A personality disorder is a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning, and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people.”
A few examples of personality disorders are:
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Histrionic Personality Disorder
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder
“Psychotic disorders are severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perceptions. People with psychoses lose touch with reality. Two of the main symptoms are delusions and hallucinations.”
A few examples of psychotic disorders are:
- Delusional Disorder
- Schizoaffective Disorder
What Does Someone Who is Mentally Unstable Look Like?
For each disorder listed above, there are different symptoms of each. But, being that all of these disorders are correlated with mental health, there are common symptoms that can signal that someone may be mentally unstable.
It is also important to understand that everyone experiences mental health issues differently.
Therefore, keep in mind that symptoms of mental illness do not fit into one little box.
What one person goes through may be completely different from someone else.
So, even if your loved one is not showing common symptoms or exhibiting a sign that is not on the list, this does not indicate they don’t need help or support.
With that being said, here are some common signs of mental instability:
- Extreme mood changes (high and low)
- Inability to concentrate
- Isolating themselves from people and activities
- Low energy
- Decreased performance with obligations (ex: work, school, etc.)
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- No motivation to complete daily tasks/activities
- Increased sensitivity to daily problems/issues
- Disconnected from reality (ex: delusions or hallucinations)
- Noticeable increase in the use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Changes in eating habits
- More hostile, angry, and/or irritable
- Suicidal thoughts
Things You Should Avoid When Trying to Support Someone Who Is Mentally Unstable
It is so important for someone who is experiencing issues with their mental health to have support from their loved ones.
Many times our loved ones have not experienced mental health issues, so it can be hard for them to know what to do to help.
To help you get a better understanding of how to help someone who is mentally unstable, let’s first go over things to avoid when you are trying to support someone who is an unstable state.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional. What I am suggesting is from my personal experience. This does not guarantee that these tips will work, but from my personal experience, I hope it can help you and your loved one(s).
Being Dismissive to their Situation
Nothing is worse than someone you love belittling what you are going through. Saying something like “Get over it!” or “Well, it could be worse” can make them feel like what they are going through should be ignored or is not important.
Stating That They Seem Happy
There are so many celebrities that have opened up about their mental illnesses and everyone is always surprised because “They live an amazing life, why would they feel like that”.
Smiling through the pain is a common coping mechanism for people who experience mental health issues. So, stating that they have a great life and always seem happy is just you scratching the surface and not digging deeper into what they are going through internally.
Pressuring Them to Open Up About It
Dealing with mental health problems is a process, and depending on the person, they may want to open up like a flower quickly, gradually express how they are feeling, or may not want to talk at all.
Therefore, it is important to avoid pressuring them to talk about what they are going through. Be patient and be ready to listen when they personally are ready to talk.
Making it About You
For some people, it is uncomfortable talking about a topic that is taboo and they don’t know much about it. Therefore, sometimes people find something to relate to their personal life or compare their loved one’s situation to someone else’s.
For example, saying “I was depressed for a few days last year, it will pass” or “My friend Sally went through this too and she is fine now.”
Avoid making statements like this because if your goal is to support them, you have to listen to how they feel without dismissing their mental health.
The last thing someone experiencing mental health issues wants to hear is a loved one judging them when they express how they feel to you.
When someone chooses to open up and talk about what they are going through, it may have taken a lot of courage to do so. They could have hesitated about expressing how they feel to someone they know to avoid judgemental comments or being seen as damaged.
So, it is important to listen with no judgment to ensure that they feel completely supported.
Now we can go into depth about what you should do to provide more support to someone who is mentally unstable!
How to Support Someone Experiencing Mental Health Issues
Ask Them What They Need
This may seem simple, but people often forget to just ask what they need and instead guess what they THINK they need.
When you ask they may say they don’t need anything in particular, but assure them that if they do need anything that you are there to help.
This will go a long way and will validate to them that you are truly trying to support them during this tough time.
Listen to Them Attentively
Listen to them! Do not try to take over the conversation with a ton of suggestions and asking questions constantly.
This may make them feel like expressing how they feel is a lost cause because no one is hearing them.
This could result in the desire to retreat back to isolating themselves from everyone, which is the opposite of what we are trying to do.
So, listen closely to what they are saying and validate how they are feeling. By doing this, you can better understand where they are coming from and figure out the best ways to help them.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Have you ever been upset and someone makes a statement such as “You look irritated”?
By making a statement like this, you are labeling what you THINK that person is feeling which can invalidate how they truly feel.
It also lacks consideration because you are simply stating what you observe rather than asking what is wrong.
By asking open-ended questions, you are allowing the person to genuinely express what they are feeling and experiencing. This also is more welcoming and will help to make them feel like they are in a judge-free zone.
Some examples of open-ended questions you could ask are:
- “How are you feeling?”
- “Have you expressed how you’re feeling to your therapist?”
- “What can I do to help you feel more supported?”
Educate Yourself on Their Diagnosis
By doing some research on their diagnosis, you can have a clearer understanding of what they are going through.
Doing this can help you approach the person in a better way and they will appreciate the effort put into learning about what they are experiencing.
Through research, you can also learn specific symptoms that correlate with their mental disorder. Although, research should not be used to help you diagnose them, leave that job to professionals.
Instead, use what you have learned as supplemental information on how to better support your loved one.
Encourage Them to Engage in Activities
A common symptom of mental illness is decreased functioning in activities and tasks. Not everyone experiences this symptom, but for those who do it could help to encourage them to go to the coffee shop or to the movies.
It’s important to not pressure them though. If they say no that is okay. Try to encourage smaller activities like taking a short walk or making a smoothie!
If they are having a hard time starting to do activities, then be patient and follow their lead.
The last thing you want is for them to push you away because you were too overbearing.
Just be there for them consistently and remind them that when they are ready, you would love to do something with them.
Regularly Check Up on Them
Sometimes when someone is experiencing mental health issues, they may say they are fine and disappear for a while. This is a sign that you should try to reach out and ask how they are doing.
Just like stated above, you don’t want to come off as overbearing. So don’t excessively call and text them.
I know it is human nature to constantly check on someone we love when we are worried about them, but this can do more harm than good.
Check in every once in a while to gauge how they are feeling and how they are coping with their problem. This is a small gesture that can go such a long way.
Take Care of Your Own Mental Health
This is so, so important! I lacked this for a long time and didn’t realize I was emotionally and mentally drained by giving my support to others without leaving any support for myself.
You can’t fill a cup up from an empty jug. It is impossible!
So, make sure to take care of your own mental health and this will allow you to be a better supporter to your loved one.
Help Them Find Professional Help/Support Groups
Mental health is hard to cope with and can’t only be fixed by drinking herbal tea or taking a bath.
It is vital to seek help from a professional to get the best resources to come out on top.
So, as a friend, family member, neighbor, or stranger, help them find a professional to talk to or a support group they can connect with.
It can be scary sometimes if it is their first time getting professional help, so try going with them the first few times to make them feel more comfortable.
Resources are listed below if you need a few to reference now!
List of Resources
All of the resources below will keep your personal information confidential.
Find Therapists/Support Groups
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline
Provides free referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and organizations that you can join. The helpline is available 24/7 all year long and is available in English and Spanish.
- Black Female Therapists Directory
A directory that has a variety of Black female therapists that have different specialties to allow you to choose a therapist that fits your needs. You can contact the therapists directly from the website and is very easy to use!
- Better Help
Provides online counseling that is affordable and accessible to you at all times.
- Psychology Today
They provide a way for you to find therapists and support groups either online or in your area.
- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Provides a free database that you can search for online support groups to join.
If someone is suicidal, here are hotlines you can call or text that will try to help them through how they are feeling. Make sure to stay with them to provide comfort and ensure they are safe.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Provides free, 24/7 support to people who are in distress and aims to prevent the occurrence of suicide.
- Crisis Textline
Provides free 24/7 support from a Crisis Counselor for anyone who is dealing with a crisis or is in distress.
I hope you found this helpful and will use this information to help support someone who is struggling with their mental health.
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Comment down below what you think about this topic. Have you been a support system for someone who has a mental health issue?