Helping Somebody with a Mental Illness Diagnosis

5 Tips for Helping Somebody with a Mental Illness Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with a mental illness is a challenging time for the person concerned, but it also puts pressure on their loved ones. If somebody you know has been diagnosed with a mental illness, it can be difficult to know what to say, how to act, and how to help them feel better. It goes without saying that psychological treatment is essential to helping them cope with what’s happening, but as somebody close to the individual, you can offer plenty of much-needed support and guidance too. Here are some tips for helping your loved one who has a mental illness diagnosis without putting too much pressure on yourself:

1: Learn About the Condition

It’s best to understand what your loved one’s diagnosis really means, and there are many websites you can use to get a general understanding of most mental health conditions. Mind’s website and the NHS Choices site both have a lot of useful information (as does this website), and there are also many dedicated sites for specific conditions. You don’t have to become an expert in it, but being familiar will help you understand what they’re going through. This also helps you identify how stigma about mental health may be influencing your thinking about their condition.

2: Be Patient – Getting Better Takes Time

Try to have realistic expectations about recovering from or learning to cope with a mental health issue: a single round of treatment is highly unlikely to “cure” any problem. If the individual tries to take on too much responsibility too quickly (or to “make up for lost time” at work or school), this is likely to lead to stress and possibly exacerbate the issue. Encourage them to take things slowly, and don’t expect big changes in short periods of time.

3: Take the Lead and Help However You Can

Asking for help from somebody else – no matter how close you are to them – can be daunting, so it helps to be proactive in offering support. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push them into it, but simply asking how somebody is feeling is often enough to convey that they don’t have to avoid the issue with you. Some people may want support in different ways, so don’t be afraid to ask how you can help him or her out. However, be wary of only talking to them about mental health – make time for everyday conversation so they don’t feel “defined” by their condition.

4: Set Reasonable Limits

Although you want to help as much as possible, it’s easy to take on too much responsibility or even to be too tolerant of extreme behaviour. For example, if you’re living with somebody struggling with anger issues, this doesn’t mean you have to “put up with” violence or extreme aggression. You shouldn’t take a harsh “no tolerance” approach, but it’s important to have limits. Set clear – but fair – rules as to what is and what isn’t acceptable, and how you’re willing to help and what is taking it too far. Ensuring they stay in treatment and keep taking any medication can help them control their own behaviour, and counselling offers somewhere they can get help with issues which are too complex or deep-seated for loved ones to help with.

5: Look Out for Yourself

Dealing with a mental health problem in the family is a challenging time for everybody concerned, and even though you may not feel as though you could use some support, it’s often the case that loved ones can benefit from counselling or support groups. If you don’t feel like you need structured help, at least do your best you make time for yourself. In short, you need “time off” to relax and de-stress too, so don’t neglect your own well-being. Try to ensure you get enough sleep and eat healthily, for example, even if you have a lot on your mind.


To help somebody with a mental illness, you have to be there for them without neglecting yourself, be tolerant without turning into a “doormat” or enabling their behaviour and be knowledgeable about what he or she is going through. It’s far from simple, but with your support, professional counselling and medication as needed, your loved one can learn to control compulsions, cope with emotions and get better. It won’t be an overnight change, but with ongoing effort, you will start to notice a change.