How to support a friend with a Mental Illness

Dr. Pranavjeet Kaldate

6/4/20235 min read

two person holding papercut heart
two person holding papercut heart

I was 16 when one of my closest friends told me she was visiting a therapist for the treatment of her depression. I was glad that she trusted me enough and gathered the courage to tell me this but at the same time I didn’t know how to react so I just tried to be there for her at that moment, gave her a hug and told her she can count on me if she needs any support. Many questions were running through my mind for the entire day; We were friends since several years before we became best friends, we attended so many classes together, hung out at least twice a week before she could finally tell me this and honestly, I wouldn’t have guessed that she is suffering with a mental illness, even after spending such a long time together. She was and still is the funniest person in the group and always supportive. I think I would’ve been able to support her better if I had the right guidance and awareness about it.

A person with a mental health condition experiences changes in cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning (or a combination of these). A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that 7.5 percent of the Indian population suffers from some form of mental disorder. Mental illnesses constitute one-sixth of all health-related disorders and India accounted for nearly 15 percent of the global mental, neurological and substance abuse disorder burden. Supporting a loved one with a mental health condition can be challenging. You can feel clueless at first. You don’t want your actions or words to hurt them so you become more aware. If you are a close family member then it can be emotionally draining and may lead to a burn out. It is important to look after yourself too when you decide to support them.

Here are some tips for supporting a friend with a mental illness:

1. Acceptance:

Acceptance is the most important step towards supporting both yourself and your loved one. Give yourself time to deal with your own emotions. You have to accept that there are going to be days when they need lots of support. You have to accept that maybe sometimes they won’t reciprocate the same amount of effort as you expect them to. You have to accept the fact that support can be tiring and frustrating and you have the right to seek support if you need it. With acceptance comes the decision of supporting them. Accepting and deciding can be difficult and you can take your time to do so. If you decide to support, you should do it only if you are able to accept and feel that you are ready. Know that it is absolutely ok if you are not ready.

2. Learning more about it :

Educating yourself about the diagnosis, symptoms and mental health ingeneral is very important. You can do this by reading as much as you can about it and by talking with a mental health professional or somebody with similar experiences. Make sure your sources are genuine and trustworthy. There are many books you can refer to. Articles from mental health magazines are a good source too. If you are a very close family member or guardian, then talking with their therapist can be a good idea.

3. Listening:

“When a person realizes he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense he is weeping for joy. It is as though he were saying, "Thank God, somebody heard me. Someone knows what it's like to be me". - Carl Rogers Sometimes, listening is the best way to support someone. Listening non-judgmentally and giving them an open space to talk about their feelings and distress makes them feel heard and seen. Acknowledge and validate what they are saying. Show some affection and reassure them that you are there to support them. You can also do this when they have a panic attack or when they are feeling suicidal. Listen and concentrate on their needs. They are not always looking for advice so ask them if they want one or if they want to talk without any feedback. Don’t interrupt them while they are talking. If you are confused as to what to do, ask them, “what can I do to make you feel better?” Maintaining confidentiality is also very important here.

4. Empathy:

“True empathy is always free of any evaluative or diagnostic quality. This comes across to the recipient with some surprise. "If I am not being judged, perhaps I am not so evil or abnormal as I have thought. - Carl Rogers Empathy is the ability to understand other people’s feelings as if they were your own. Try to imagine yourself in their place and look at things from their point of view. Try to understand their feelings even if you don’t agree with them. Doing this will help you manage your own feelings too, without being overwhelmed. You can use statements like- “You are making total sense” “That sounds frustrating” “I’d feel the same way you do if I were in your situation.”

5. Self-care:

Self-care is necessary for any individual out there. We consciously take care of our physical health by avoiding certain things to keep our body healthy. Taking care of our mental health is equally important. There are many self-care practices one can use. You want to support them without losing your peace of mind and you don’t need to feel guilty about it. Here are some important self-care practices relevant to this topic:

● Boundaries: Creating certain boundaries for yourself at the start itself is very essential for your peace of mind, honoring your own needs, and to prevent burnout. Boundaries while

supporting a loved one can sound like-

“I don’t need to be available 24x7”

“I don’t need to put myself in danger to watch them”

“I don’t need to feel guilty if things are going well for me.”

“I don’t need to stay in a relationship if it’s not working for me and is stressing me out.”

● Reach out:

Friends and family members can feel frustrated, emotionally drained, confused, and clueless. Know that it is completely natural to feel this way and it is okay if you feel the need for support. It is important to reach out to a friend, family or a professional on time to avoid distress.

● Support group:

There are many organizations which organize support groups regularly. A support group is a group of people, experiencing similar kinds of situations who come together to discuss their feelings, coping strategies, personal experiences, etc. You can try going to a support group and feel free to express yourself. Finally, know that you are not alone. Give yourself time to process and deal with your own emotions. You do not need to suppress your feelings and it is always okay to seek support for yourself. If you want to support others you have to stay upright yourself

-Peter Heg

Get in touch


Dayaprabha House, 1st Floor, ITI Rd, above Kaya Clinic, Ward No. 8, Pushpak Park, Aundh, Pune, Maharashtra 411007



Curamind | Medisocial