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How to Help Someone with a Mental Illness

Seeing a loved one suffer from a mental health disorder of any kind is a difficult sight, and it can be difficult to know how to help someone with a mental illness. While it can be tempting to jump in and try to make them feel better or rectify the situation, it is better to take account of the situation first. Jumping in without knowing the nature of the illness, proper techniques, or how the loved one will respond, can carry its own risks and may make the situation worse.

Understanding the methods for providing proper support is paramount, especially when a loved one is suffering a very intense episode, or if a loved one doesn’t want help. Regardless of the mental illness, education, practice, and patience are needed to address the situation calmly and effectively. The ultimate goal is to get each person to get the proper help they need or help someone with mental illness seek the help they need from a professional.

First, Breathe


While someone suffering from mental illness may be behaving irrationally in order to mitigate their pain, it is important that their support system does not feed into this feeling. Take a moment to breathe first.

Taking deep breaths can model calming breathing techniques for the loved one as a coping mechanism and it also allows the support person to address the situation with a clear mind.

Taking a few deep breaths can sharpen other skills needed when helping someone cope with a mental health crisis. Being able to breathe and remain calm can turn a solid support system into one who can help someone with their mental illness, or get someone with mental illness to accept treatment.

Address Them Clearly and Calmly

The volume and tone of voice are important here in helping someone cope with their mental health, or when trying to coerce someone to accept treatment at all. Speaking loudly can be interpreted as anger or lead to misconceptions about a support person’s role in the situation. Approaching them calmly and within their line of sight, address the loved one directly and patiently.

With multiple emotions firing at once and the mind creating misconceptions about reality, keeping surprises to an absolute minimum in order to not startle a person in crisis is crucial for establishing a dialogue and thus help someone with a mental health disorder begin to move through their situation.

Being able to open a dialogue can help someone with a mental disorder understand the situation and how it is affecting them, but getting to that point takes practice and patience in exercising proper techniques for approaching and addressing a person with a mental health crisis.

Watch the Words

The very words that someone uses to address someone with mental health illnesses are also important. During a crisis, someone’s mind will be working overtime trying to cope with the perceived disasters around them and they may be highly distracted in the conversation. When speaking, avoid saying “oh” and “um,” and use clear, concise, and direct language to ask or answer questions.

Keeping sentences short and to the point increases the chance that they can be processed efficiently and accurately even during crises. Without clear communication, it can be difficult to take the proper steps that someone may require in order to get the help that someone may need with mental illness.

Listen, Don’t Assume

To say that there is a lot going on in the mind of the loved one suffering from mental illness would be a massive understatement. Oftentimes, they are fearful or misinterpreting the world around them and they instead see reality through a lens that may make it seem more hopeless or threatening. The things that someone may say during a mental health crisis can be drastic.

These things can, and most likely will, be difficult to hear. However, they are things that someone needs to express. Be prepared to listen to these difficult statements, whether they are directed at something in particular or someone is expressing their own dislike for themselves. Allowing a loved one with a mental illness to express themselves during this time unencumbered can also help them realize the sources of their own anxieties.

Listening without assuming can help them realize the help that they may need, and aid in having someone with mental health issues seek the help that may be necessary for them. It is difficult to know how to help someone with a mental illness, so when they do provide information in the moment, treasure it and use it to create a potent dialogue about how to get them the help they need.

Avoiding making assumptions can also aid in mitigating surprise. Due to the lens that mental illness can create, sudden movements or actions without prompting can be confusing or misinterpreted by someone in crisis. Before moving, make clear what the intentions are. Assumptions about the cause or trigger of a mental health episode can also be detrimental, as someone coming in and changing their environment without being prompted or having a reason can induce even more stress into the situation.

There is no way to rush through these crises and mental illness recovery is a long process. Making assumptions about triggers and what a person needs can hinder an already slow and difficult time. Rather, take the time to ask questions clearly and react based on their answers. No two episodes are going to be exactly alike and addressing each episode as a unique situation can instill the trust in their support person that someone needs during a crisis.

Reaffirm the Relationship


Mental health issues often lead people to feel alone, isolated in a dangerous world, or misunderstood by the people around them. During difficult times, mental health disorders can create a barrier between the person suffering most and the support systems around them.

Begin and continue reaffirming the relationship and care that the support person wants to provide, and help them be more willing to accept help when offered.

Hearing that someone is loved and genuinely cared about can be powerful, even if it seems as if it is falling on deaf ears. Address aspects of the person that are personal and may not have anything to do with the mental health disorder–like a favorite book or movie, or a recent sports game. Make the conversation that is powerful, personal, and therefore impactful, as possible.

Educate Yourself and Use Objective Evidence

Jumping into a crisis blindly can worsen symptoms of mental illness, but even the most careful, loving support systems still need proper education about the mental illness generally, as well as the specifics of how it affects their loved ones. Knowing the warning signs is great, but support persons should also use that information to ensure that they are not engaging in any practices that may be enabling other destructive behaviors.

Wanting to help, in some cases, can lead to enabling self-medication techniques in people suffering from mental illness. It is difficult to know how to help someone with mental illness, or how to get someone with mental illness to get the help they need themselves.

However, a unified front can make the conversation easier and more achievable. Each step of the way, people suffering from mental illness and their support systems need to work side-by-side to create guidelines and have objective reasons for structures being put in place.

Maintaining a unified front for the betterment of the individual is important for constant growth and healing. Having these guidelines agreed upon and established can also decrease the need for making a split-second, in-the-moment decision during a crisis, and provide a clear roadmap for how to help the person beneath the illness during difficult times, even if they are reluctant to receive help in the moment.


Mental health issues and times of crisis are complicated. If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health disorder, or just want more information on how to best help your loved one in a time of crisis, contact Chateau Recovery. Taking a holistic and evidence-based approach to recovery, the professionals at Chateau pride themselves on directing each of their programs at the specific needs of individuals and use the experiences of each person to help guide them towards their goals. There are many factors at play during mental health and its recovery, but nobody ever has to face it alone. For more information on the programs available or techniques for aiding a loved one, call Chateau Recovery today at (435) 222-5225.

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