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Mental Illness: how can family and friends help??

It can be so overwhelming to have a family member or friend with a mental illness. It can make you feel pretty damn helpless. Speaking from the perspective of someone who has a mental illness I can say that when I am in the thick of it I don’t know how to ask for help or what I need. So I have been piecing this blog post together on the days that I feel good and remember. If you are a family member/friend I encourage you to read it, if you have a mental illness I encourage you to add to the lists of symptoms or things that can help, share it, and use it as a template if your mental illness is completely different from this.

This is a long blog post and if you can’t get through it all here is a sum up of how to help:
-Continue to text/call your friend/loved one even if they don’t answer- they will know you are thinking of them.
-Stop by to drop off food/groceries/self care items like shampoo/makeup/magazines/treats
-If you are close enough to this person clean up around their house. Make it look nice, bring flowers or a new cozy throw
-If the person has children offer to take them to the park or play with them for a couple hours
-If you are in the position to give money or gift cards please do! People with mental illness have MANY medical/psychiatric/therapy bills and often have trouble working enough to pay these bills. As you can imagine this adds to the stress and anxiety they already feel.

help depression
If you have time to continue reading here are more details on what your friend/loved one may be going through and how you can help with each specific symptom!!!

I used Bipolar Disorder as a model since that is what I’m dealing with . These are all Bipolar Disorder related mental health issues, but you could easily change it to fit your needs.


•Feelings of desperation and hopelessness
•Crying fits
•Excessively tired
•Small problems seem enormous and impossible
•Trouble making decisions
•Housework neglected
•Physical discomfort/pain
•Digestive discomfort
•Lack of appetite
•Lack of interest in anything

What you can do:

•Remind me these are symptoms, not how I feel when well

•Get me out of the house

•Take one chore off my list

•Bring me dinner or a bag of groceries/toiletries

•Play with the kids for a couple hours

•Help me clean and de-clutter

•Help me find one thing to look forward too

•Show me pictures of fun times we had together

What doesn’t help for Depression:
•Telling me everything is great and I shouldn’t be depressed
•Avoiding talking with me about the depression
•Trying to “solve” the root cause of my depression (there likely isn’t a root cause)
•Telling me that someone else is worse off than me
•Saying “You should be happy look at all you have to be happy for!”


•Feeling invinceable
•Very energetic
•Starting several projects at once
•Can’t sit still need to move around
•Need to leave house
•Spending more money without concern
•Over do it with too many commitments
•Extra talkative/talking fast
•Poor judgement
•High risk behavior (reckless driving, excessive spending, trusting strangers)

What you can do:
•Ask me ” Do you think you are feeling a little “too up”?

•Don’t let me drink any alcohol or caffeine

•Help me get some sleep

•Come up with a plan for trigger times (vacations, postpartum, new job)

•Remind me to stick to my exercise, sleep, eating routine

•Encourage me to call my doctor

•Intervene and try to defuse any arguments

•Ask me if I’m spending a lot of money or taking on too many projects

What doesn’t help for Mania:
•Egging me on or enabling me
•Trying to forcefully tell me not to do something


•Raw nerves – feeling that my body is inside out and everything is abrasive
•No frustration tolerance
•Angry at everyone and everything
•Make sarcastic comments

What you can do:

•Force me to take a walk

•Ask me if I have tried cold water/ice coping skills

•Take the kids away from me for a bit

•Help me get some sleep

What doesn’t help with Irritation/Anger:
•Getting into an argument with me


•Clenched jaw, fists, muscles
•Excessive worrying
•Paralyzed in one position
•Not talking much
•Everything makes my skin crawl for example clutter, dirt, physical contact
•Lack of appetite
•Constantly checking email/ texts/social media
•Digestive distress
•Racing heart
•Chest pain
•Anticipating calamity

What you can do:
•Acknowledge that you can tell I’m having a bad day

•Give me some space to breathe like alone time

•Suggest that I meditate or do yoga

•Tell me I’m safe

•Do a grounding exercise with me

•Clean the kitchen or bathroom for me

•Take the kids for a couple hours

What doesn’t help for Anxiety:
•Saying “It will be ok don’t worry”
•Saying “You just need to stop worrying. Just stop!”

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