Mental Illness is a Huge Problem

How can we help someone who has mental illness? The first thing is obvious, but nonetheless very important. Talk to them. Approach them using some of the suggestions below. Be aware of things you could say to cause more harm than good (again see below).

As Suicide Prevention Awareness Month continues, I have been inundated with statistics and information related to the importance of getting treatment early.

In many cases a person doesn’t get help until they have an acute case of mental illness. Why is this? If our blood sugar or cholesterol is high, if there’s a tiny spot on a mammogram, if the PSA numbers are slightly off - doctors jump right in to prevent the illness from getting worse. Treatment and medications are covered by insurance. There are many doctors and hospitals to choose from locally.

This is not the case with our mental health.

It's hard to get mental healthcare because of:

  • social stigmas

  • lack of services.

  • lack of finances - because a lot of mental healthcare is NOT COVERED by insurance!

I don’t have solutions to this big issue, thankfully there are some great organizations out there working hard to make changes. One of the best resources is NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness). I took the following from their website.

How to help someone with mental illness (or someone you suspect may be suffering from it). If you don’t have time to read the whole list, please at least read the things to avoid saying. I think most of my readers are sensitive enough to see the harm in these things. We need to teach our children how to approach this with their friends as well.

Things to Avoid Saying:

  • “Just pray about it.”

  • “You just need to change your attitude.”

  • “Stop harping on the negative, you should just start living.”

  • “Everyone feels that way sometimes.”

  • “You have the same illness as me.”

  • “Yes, we all feel a little crazy now and then.”

Things to Avoid Doing:

  • Criticizing, blaming or raising your voice at them.

  • Talking too much, too rapidly, too loudly. Silence and pauses are ok.

  • Showing any form of hostility towards them.

  • Assuming things about them or their situation.

  • Being sarcastic or making jokes about their condition.

  • Patronizing them or saying anything condescending.

Helpful ways to approach someone:

  • Talk to them in a space that is comfortable, where you won’t likely be interrupted and where there are likely minimal distractions.

  • Ease into the conversation, gradually. It may be that the person is not in a place to talk, and that is OK. Greeting them and extending a gentle kindness can go a long way. Sometimes less is more.

  • Be sure to speak in a relaxed and calm manner.

  • Communicate in a straightforward manner and stick to one topic at a time.

  • Be respectful, compassionate and empathetic to their feelings by engaging in reflective listening, such as “I hear that you are having a bad day today. Yes, some days are certainly more challenging than others. I understand.”

  • Instead of directing the conversation at them with ‘you’ statements, use ‘I’ statements instead.

  • Be a good listener, be responsive and make eye contact with a caring approach.

  • Ask them appropriate questions and avoid prying.

  • Give them the opportunity to talk and open up but don’t press.

  • Share some easy insights as a way of encouraging easy conversation, such as comments about the weather, the community or other.

  • Reduce any defensiveness by sharing your feelings and looking for common ground.

  • Speak at a level appropriate to their age and development level. Keep in mind that mental illness has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence.

  • Be aware of a person becoming upset or confused by your conversation with them.

  • Show respect and understanding for how they describe and interpret their symptoms.

  • Genuinely express your concern.

  • Offer your support and connect them to help if you feel that they need it. Ask, “How can I help?” if appropriate, or even, “Can I pray with you now?” if appropriate.

  • Give the person hope for recovery, offer encouragement and prayers.


*Stats from 2019 - it's gotten so much worse since COVID started in 2020 but I liked this graphic because it covers a wide range.