Supporting a loved one with mental illness is full of challenges for many people. It is important to know that 1 in 3 people will struggle with mental illness in their lifetime. Those battling mental illness and those supporting loved ones will mental illness are not alone. Our mental health specialists at McKay-Dee Hospital are here to help you find the best treatment and coping mechanisms for your individual struggle.

Tips on how to help a loved one with mental illness


How do I know if there is something wrong?

Don't ignore your gut feeling. Educate yourself on the warning signs of anxiety and depression:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty at school/work
  • Changes in sleeping/eating habits
  • Mood changes 
  • Drug abuse
  • Talk of suicide

Be up front with the individual and show that you are concerned:

  • "I'm worried about you. Can we talk about what you are going through?"
  • "Can we talk about what you are experiencing right now?"
  • "I care about you and want to help you."
  • "What can I do to help you right now?"

Three young women and a dog are walking together down a leafy sidewalk

Encourage your loved one to seek out help and show him or her your support.

Don't push the individual to get help, but encourage him or her with talk of hope that things can improve.

If the individual is in treatment try to stay involved:

  • Ask about upcoming appointments and their progress.
  • Be involved in the treatment plan if possible.

Continue to include the individual in your life and in your plans. Frequently reassure the individual that you care.

A nurse in blue scrubs holding papers in her hand talks with a male patient in a clinic waiting room

Acknowledge that you cannot change the individual living with mental illness, but you can change how you look at mental illness.

Try to educate yourself about the individual's illness and symptoms so that you can recognize them.

Try to see difficult situations from his/her perspective to try and understand what their feelings are at that time.

Learn to communicate with the individual in ways he/she can understand.

  • Everyone communicates differently.
  • Start out by being direct and using clear language about what you are trying to convey.

Set realistic expectations for the individual and yourself.

  • Every individual with mental illness has his/her own pace at which they reach out for help, accept help, etc. Try not to compare your family member/friend with others. 
  • Every individual who has a family member/friend with mental illness will cope in different ways so try to not compare the way you are coping with the way other people cope. 
  • Learn from others but develop what works best for you. 


Prepare for a possible crisis.

DON'T be afraid to ask the question, "Are you feeling like you might hurt yourself?" It is a myth that this will plant the idea in a person's head. If you are concerned about this with your loved one, ASK THE QUESTION.

  • Have phone numbers of the individual's providers and the number of the local crisis line close at hand in the event you need to reference them.
  • Identify family members who are aware of the individual's mental illness and be prepared to call them if needed.
  • Know the individual's diagnoses and medications in case you have to give them to emergency providers.
  • Be prepared to call 911 in the event that the individual's safety or the safety of yourself and others is in question.

Take care of yourself.

Understand the symptoms of stress so that you can recognize them when they appear. 

Keep up your physical health:

  • Exercise
  • Eat healthy
  • Get sufficient sleep
  • Ask for help from family/friends when you feel you need a break.

Set standards with yourself and with the individual so that you feel safe:

  • Be able to identify what would have to happen for you to feel unsafe and feel the need to call for help.
  • Don't be ashamed to share these standards with the individual.

If faith and religion are a part of your life, look to members and leaders of that organization for support, but make sure they are educated on behavioral health issues.