Supporting A Loved One With a Mental Illness

Supporting the Mentally Ill - Ways you can help Part 1 of a 4 Part Series - Written by a Mentally Ill Mother, Wife, Daughter & Human - A list of ways you can can support a loved-one with a mental illness including things you should avoid doing.I’ve sat here for an hour trying to figure out the best way to open this post. I know what I want to say in the “meat” of the post but the opener has me stumped. So I think the easiest way to start would be with this simple statement:

“Hi, my name is Stacy and I’m mentally ill.”

This post is the first of a four-part series for family members of those with a mental illness. I was diagnosed with a mental illness when I was 15 years old which meant years of therapy, doctors and research. I understand my illnesses but recently I’ve had to learn how to cope with another’s mental illnesses.

My eldest daughter was diagnosed with her own set of mental illnesses. Being in the support role has been a sharp contrast to receiving support. Everything here is from my own experiences. I’m starting the series with list of things you can do to assist.

I want to stress that if you feel overwhelmed, please get help immediately. Large communities have Help Lines to call – don’t be afraid to call for help and advice.

This Series:

  1. Mental Illness: Supporting A Loved One With a Mental Illness
  2. Mental Illness: The Role of the Caretaker
  3. Mental Illness: What to say AND not to say to a loved one
  4. Mental Illness: How My Family Helps

Knowing, loving & supporting the mental ill is one of the hardest things you will do. Whether you have a friend or are related to someone, there are few universal things that you can do for them and for yourself.

ACCEPTANCE: Accept that you can not change someone who has a mental illness.

Accept that you cannot fix them. No matter how much you listen, take care of them or try to shield them from problems, they will still be mentally ill.

The quicker you accept that your friend does not have the ability to “cure” or “overcome” their diagnosis, the easier it will be for you. No one chooses to be mentally ill, in the same way that no one chooses to have diabetes. And like diabetes – there are are only treatments, no cures.


UNDERSTAND: If you will be spending a lot of time with a person with a mental illness, take the time learn about their specific diagnosis or diagnoses.

Ask them about the diagnosis, if they are reluctant to speak about, don’t feel hurt or surprised. Many people with mental illness feel instantly “on guard” as soon as someone else brings it up. If you are going to be in a long term relationship with someone with mental illness, consider consulting your own therapist. They cannot give you specifics about the mental illness but they can help you understand the symptoms and the best way you can help.

There are several reputable sources on the internet that you can find information for their specific diagnoses as well.

ALWAYS, Let your friend or loved one know what you are doing. Express your concerns and your desire to understand better. Trust is a big issue for many people with mental illnesses.


SUPPORT: Support when you can but never at the expense of your own well-being.

Listen when they need to talk, assist when you can and be ready for your life to be occasionally interrupted by a crisis.

However, never, ever, ever let someone who is mentally ill walk all over you. Many people with mental illness are adept at getting what they need by manipulation, whether it’s emotional, physical or monetary. It does not make them bad, this is just how they have learned to cope and live.

It is important that you put down firm ground rules, especially if you are dealing with a child or significant other. Do not let guilt guide you – you will not be doing them any favors.


ENCOURAGE: Encourage them to do things for themselves.

Unless a person suffers from a severe mental illness that limits their ability to take care of themselves, it is not your job to do things for them.

Don’t fall into the trap of taking care of everything for them. Push them to make doctor’s appointment, fill prescriptions, and other important issues. You may not always be there for them, so it is important that they learn to do these things on their own two feet.


WATCH: Pay attention for cues that might indicate a change in their mental health.

When they are really suffering (you will know when this happens), you will probably need to assist them in getting help. You can ask them how you can help but don’t be surprised if they can’t answer. When a person begins to have a crisis, their minds are almost childlike (don’t say that to them though!).

During a crisis, if you are the caretaker or significant other, call their therapist or doctor for advice. If they do not have one try a help line if you have one available. Write this number down BEFORE a crisis and tell your significant other why you are writing it down.

If you are a friend, during a crisis it is best to turn to the caretaker with your concerns first. If their is an immediate threat, call 911. In any situation, never be afraid to call the police if you feel threatened or you feel that you are dealing with a suicidal person.

If you find yourself in the position of loving a person diagnosed with a mental illness, taking the time to arm yourself with knowledge is the best thing you can do. I hope you find something of use on this page.

Next week I will discuss resources and rights for the loved-ones of the mentally ill.

DISCLAIMER: This is a personal blog. This blog contains opinions and experiences. We are not doctors. If you feel you need help, please seek a professional. Please view our complete Disclaimer.

Possibly Shared at One of These Parties!



  1. Hi Stacy. I’m stopping by from the Let’s Get Real Friday Link Party. This is a great article. Mental illness isn’t something everyone talks about, but it’s an important topic. You have given readers a lot of great advice to think about. I love that you listed that you can’t change someone with mental illness first. It is often the case that people feel they can “fix” the problem. I appreciate you sharing this with us. Have a great night.

    • Thank you Nicky for the positive feedback. It’s a subject that is near to my heart and if I help just one person that would be great. I look forward to next week’s party! Thanks for keeping it real ~Stacy

  2. Hi Stacy. I’m stopping in from Let’s Get Real today. I am reading your post and with tears in my eyes, I am nodding in agreement. I have a close family member with mental illness and I’m always so frustrated when people think they can just change her. Like this is a choice she had made to be mentally ill. There is so much education that is still needed on this subject and you are doing a really brave thing by putting yourself out there. For many years, I served on the board of directors at a mental health agency and from that I learned that mental illness comes in all shapes, sizes, and walks of life. Keep up the important work you are doing here.

    • Thank you Christina for stopping by and sending the encouraging words. Writing these are just as beneficial to me & my family, especially as I’m now in the supportive role. I wish you and family member lots of strength – it’s what I pray for most for myself. ~Stacy

  3. Hi Stacy – thanks so much for sharing this information. I just had a situation this week with my cousin. She’s diagnosed bipolar and doesn’t get much support from her family nearby, who generally think she should just “get over herself and snap out of it”. I live in Peru, so I can’t really be there for her at all, but I do talk to her frequently online.

    She had a little bit of a breakdown on FB earlier this week, and I’m so thankful I was there to catch it and alert family at home. But even I – having been through depression myself – had a first fleeting thought of “Geeze, not again”, and the feeling of not wanting to get dragged into some big “thing”.

    Would I have felt that way if she’d been on FB saying she was having a heart attack? Of course not! I would have immediately called for help whether it was convenient for me or not.

    But there’s something about mental illness that makes people want to turn the other way. Hopefully with more time, we’ll be able to get past it and recognize that it shouldn’t be seen as a weakness, and stop stigmatizing people. Thank you so much for sharing your story and helping us move in that direction. (Visiting from Let’s Get Real)

    • Kelly, I live on the other side of the states from my mom who is my rock. I often have to rely on her on the phone when I have a “mini-meltdown”. I know it’s inconvenient for her but she’s a trooper πŸ˜‰

      The fact that you felt “not again”, is certainly normal. The thing about a heart attack… they generally only happen once, maybe twice to a person. Mental health crises can happen weekly, monthly, yearly. It’s like dealing with someone who has the flu nonstop! It sounds like you did all the right things and that support is invaluable.

      I hope your cousin will find her way & make peace with her mental illness. You can’t cure it but you can find the right way to treat it and live with it. Stay Strong! ~Stacy

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