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How to Be a Good Friend to Someone with a Mental Illness

Next to relationships with members of your family, friendships remain among the most valuable forms of human contact human beings have. We rely on friends for a lot of things and can sometimes talk to a friend about things that you would not feel comfortable discussing with a family member.

One of the most crucial ways to be a better friend is to support your compatriot during difficult times. This includes providing them with emotional support when they are undergoing a mental breakdown. For individuals that live with mental illnesses, social support offered by friends is especially important. This is because a friend keeps us grounded and reminds us of our worth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of Americans are diagnosed with a mental disorder or illness at some point in their lifetime. Maintaining healthy friendships is crucial to help individuals cope with these mental disorders or illnesses.

Does your friend have a mental illness or disorder and you’re wondering how to be a good friend to them? This post provides you with various ways you can be a better friend to a person with mental illness.

Why is Friendship Important when Someone is Mentally Ill?

Although a person with a mental disorder or illness often wants to see their friends less than usual, keeping friends close can play an integral role in helping them recover from or live with a mental health problem.

Talking to a friend can help you keep grounded by making it clear that it is not safe to allow your condition to dominate your life.

How Do You Know If Someone Has a Mental Health Problem?

Signs and symptoms of a mental illness can vary, depending on the mental disorder or its severity. At times, it is obvious when a person is going through a hard time, but there is no specific way of knowing if they have a mental issue. The best way to identify whether a person is mentally challenged is to look at the mood or behavioral changes.

However, some of the common signs of mental illness include:

  • Excessive worry, anxiety, or paranoia

  • Extreme mood changes

  • Social withdrawal

  • Long-lasting irritability or sadness

  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns

    At times, the signs and symptoms of a mental health issue are better left unnoticed. It is more important to provide emotional support to some with a mental illness than to enquire about the diagnosis of the disease.

    How Can I help?

There are many ways that you can help a friend, colleague, or relative who has a mental illness or disorder. And while most mental health disorders call for similar help, certain mental disorders require specific help.

Helping Someone with ADHD

ADHD is a condition that affects an individual’s ability to focus his or her attention. A person with ADHD will often begin a task but will rarely finish it. They get easily distracted and makes them feel restless almost always. A person with ADHD makes a rash decision mainly because they can’t think things through in a proper manner.

As a friend, here is how you help a person with ADHD;

  • Adjust your behavior accordingly

  • Try and put yourself in their shoes by learning more about ADHD

  • Don’t act as their guardian

  • Develop a routine for them

  • Don’t judge your friend based on his or her actions

    Helping Someone with Dementia

    Dementia is a general term used to refer to diseases that impair an individual’s ability to think, remember, or make sound decisions. In turn, this interferes with the person’s day-to-day activities.

    If you’re a friend, a family member, or a caregiver to an individual with dementia, you have to make them feel loved, valued, and included as much as possible. Usually, there are several ways to support them in their daily activities, as outlined below;

  • Include them in group conversations

  • Include them in social events and activities

  • Involve them in an activity they like

  • Be sensitive while dealing with them.

  • Encourage them to join conversations

  • Help increase their understanding while communicating to them

  • Set aside enough time for meals for them

  • Ask them how they would prefer to be helped

    Helping Someone with Autism

    Autism is a term used to describe a mental disorder that affects an individual’s social interaction and communication. People with autism have often been described to bring new ideas and perspectives, enriching our workplaces and communities. However, a person with autism can have challenges, including time management, communication problems, anxiety, and problem staying focused.

    If your colleague, friend, or a family member have autism, here is how you can support them;

  • Help them, not control them

  • Study up about autism to learn how to relate with them

  • Be patient while speaking to them

  • Be encouraging and compassionate

  • Know their favorite interests

  • Offer clear choices to them

  • Provide them with specific praises

  • Create routines and schedules and follow them

  • Avoid slang and idioms while talking to them

    Helping Someone with Down Syndrome

    Down Syndrome is a genetic condition that occurs when abnormal cell division leads to an extra partial or full copy of chromosome 21. In turn, this leads to development and physical challenges in a child. The condition is often associated with cardiac abnormalities, sleep apnea, low muscle tone, and hearing loss, among others. Also, a person with the condition is likely to be shorter than average and heavier.

    Thus, life for people with down syndrome might be challenging, especially while undertaking day-to-day activities. So, how can you be supportive to a person with down syndrome?

  • Understand the condition to understand the challenges they face

  • Pay attention while talking to them to understand them

  • Focus on their positives

  • Encourage their talents and unique interests.

  • Encourage them to be healthy and active

  • Never talk down to them

  • Avoid offensive language while speaking to them

  • Take them for regular hearing and eyesight check-ups

    Helping Someone with Anxiety/Depression

    Anxiety is how an individual’s body responds to stress. On the other hand, depression is a mental health issue that involves loss of interest in day-to-day activities as well as low moods. Although the two terms are different, their symptoms overlap. For instance, a person suffering from either of the conditions is likely to have problems with sleep and feel irritable at all times. Also, the support needed for a person with either of the two conditions is similar.

    If your friend, family member, or colleague is suffering from anxiety/depression, you can help them in several ways, including;

  • Being compassionate

  • Understanding them

  • Being patient with them

  • Spending the time with them

  • Don’t act as their psychologist, be their friend

  • Treat them with respect and dignity

  •  Offer emotional support to them

  •  Give them hope

    How do you Support a Suicidal Friend?

If your friend tells you that they are feeling suicidal, you should encourage them to get immediate help. Always make an effort to ask how they are feeling and let them know you will always be there for them.

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