Mental illness: How friends can help

Many of us know people who are experiencing mental health issues. Authorities estimate that 29% of people will experience a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime. Authorities also recognize that family and friends can play a vital role in effective intervention. Far too often, however, we are not sure how to respond when someone reveals his or her struggles or how to talk to someone who denies a problem.

What is the best way to help someone dealing with a mental crisis or disorder? Below are a few tips to consider:

Listen compassionately. When talking to friends or loved ones you believe might have a mental disorder or who have expressed concern about it, let them know you are there to listen and help in whatever way you can. Resist the temptation to change the subject, give advice or dismiss their concerns. Dialogue rather than debate. Listen without judging or trying to change their mind. Establish trust. It is very important that they feel your support. If they disclose personal information, keep this information private. If they mention suicide, however, it is time seek a professional’s help.

Ask if the person is getting the treatment and help that is needed or wanted. If not, offer to help your friend find resources and effective care. Educate yourself about your friend’s disorder. Ask God to reveal a pathway to health. Pray with and for your friend.

Support your friend’s healthy behaviors. Proper sleep, diet and exercise have proven helpful when managing one’s mental health. Because some mental health disorders are due to a chemical imbalance, the National Alliance on Mental Health recommends that the person consume no alcohol or take any drugs not prescribed by a physician.

Ask what you can do to help. Ask how you might best support the person. Offer to help in specific ways such as driving him or her to an appointment. Continue to invite your friend to go to dinner, study, talk, or just hang out. Even if your friend does not always feel like spending time together, it can be very encouraging to know that other people care. It is important to not push too hard or nag the person, which may prompt your friend to shut down or withdraw.

Ultimately, the goal is healing. Jesus cared for those who were sick and hurting. His involvement brought blessing to the afflicted person and to God’s kingdom. May our involvement be a blessing to those struggling with mental health issues.