Supporting someone with a mental health problem

Supporting someone with mental health problems can be an exhausting and difficult task but The Mix is here to offer some advice.

three girls sitting together smiling

Just be there for them.

If someone you know is having mental health problems, they can react in a number of ways:

  • They may just tell you outright about it, in a matter of fact way.
  • Sometimes they may try to conceal it, especially if they have feelings of fear, embarrassment, shame, or guilt.
  • If you offer help, they may be defensive or aggressive.
  • You might be told it’s none of your business and you should keep your nose out.
  • Alternatively, your friend or relative could become desperately clingy and start relying on you heavily.
  • Occasionally they will be unaware that there is a problem at all.

Your feelings about the situation and the person you care about might surprise you. For example:

  • It’s common to feel intensely worried, and as though you are solely responsible for their well being.
  • You may be shocked or afraid, and reject them in some way, especially if you don’t really know much about their health problem.
  • Often, friends and relatives feel like they are powerless to help.
  • If you have been asked not to tell anyone else, even though you fear for their safety, you might face a dilemma about whether to break your promise and involve their family or medical services.
  • Some carers get frustrated that the person isn’t doing enough to get well, or think that they have brought their health problems on themselves.
  • Spending time around someone who is depressed or anxious may cause you to feel depressed or anxious too.

Things that might help:

  • If they have already been diagnosed, try to find out more about the illness. It will give you more understanding, and may take away the stigma that surrounds it. Ask your GP or ring up NHS Direct, or look at websites for MIND or Depression Alliance.
  • Don’t tell them to ‘snap out of it’, or to ‘pull themselves together’. It’s quite likely that they are unable to do so, and could knock their self-confidence badly, or make them feel you don’t understand their problems at all.
  • You have a right to be heard too. Talk to someone in confidence about what you’re going through. You don’t have to give your relative or friend’s name if you don’t want to.
  • If you think they are likely to harm themselves, don’t be scared to call for medical attention. You may be betraying a confidence, but you could also be saving their life.
  • Share the responsibility, and don’t struggle on alone. Get relatives, other friends, the GP, community psychiatric nurses, and other support agencies involved.
  • If they are being very clingy or manipulative, or are relying on you completely, don’t be scared to set a few boundaries. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want to be supportive in other ways.
  • Look after yourself properly. There’s no point running yourself into the ground, you will be able to give much more help to the person you care about if you’re in good shape.
  • Join a support group for carers, or friends and relatives. It’s good to feel that you’re not alone, and they may be able to help you in practical ways as well.


Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015