Top 7 Tips for Helping a Friend Struggling with Mental Illness

Let’s start with the basics:

  • Mental health is a spectrum.
  • Everyone has mental health.
  • Anyone’s mental health may be good or bad, or somewhere in between.
  • Bad mental health may be temporary, but it is temporarily debilitating.
  • Mental health is ever-changing, fluctuating and reacting to different things that happen to our lives.

  1.  Look after yourself – you can’t be everything to everyone

This might seem like an odd first tip for an article dealing with how to help someone else, but it’s the first tip because

it’s the most important. You need to be most important to you. It is imperative to look after yourself before/whilst/after attempting to help anyone else.

It’s as simple as: Saying something about yourself in a conversation. People are allowed to (and should) talk about themselves.


  1. Invisibility might not actually be a super power…

Mental health is invisible. This as a concept alone is hard to realise. From your perspective, you might think someone looks great physically, but mentally they might be far from it.

It’s as simple as: “But are you really ok?”


  1. ‘Recognising the signs’ might not be possible

Check out this conundrum list of three facts:

  • Part of poor mental health can be isolating yourself
  • Everyone is different
  • Everyone has bad days

The combination of all of these means that it can be very hard to spot when someone is having mental health issues. These days, it can be hard to know what is ‘normal’ or even ‘healthy’.


If you know them well: don’t beat yourself up about not knowing if they didn’t tell you, no one can be expected to know anything they weren’t told.

If you don’t know them well: don’t feel like they are your responsibility on your own. If you know that it is uncharacteristic for someone to do a certain thing, this could be the only alarm bell they might give off.

It’s as simple as: “Have you told anyone else about this?”


  1. Communicate – a trouble shared is a trouble halved

Communication really is key. Following on from above…

If you know them well: Take advantage of the fact that they have felt able to tell you about it, talk to them about it and let them know that you are there for them. Talk about it with them, not at them. Feel free to share your opinion, but also allow them to say as much or as little as they want.

If you don’t know them well: Encourage them to talk, but not just to you, to take the pressure off things. Preferably their closest family members and friends.

It’s as simple as: “Thank you for telling me.” “I’m sorry to hear that.”


  1. Do one thoughtful thing for them

It could be as small as a text saying you’re thinking of them, to sending them something in the post. Or, make a long term plan with them – it’ll give you both something to look forward to. Even if you’re worried about how it might come across, hopefully they’ll appreciate your effort regardless. The only thing worse than not doing something you’re unsure about, is not doing anything.

It’s as simple as: A message on social media. Whether they reply or see it straight away, in the long term it lets them know you’re thinking of them.


  1. Learn

Use your awareness of negative experiences in other people’s lives to enrich your own.

It’s as simple as: “If you don’t find it too hard to talk about, I’d love to know more.”


  1. You get what you give

Be kind. To yourself, and to others. You’ll be reaping the rewards, even if right now, (just like mental health), those rewards might seem invisible.

It’s as simple as: Smile at that passer-by. You never know what someone else is going through.




Caitlin Tilley


Images: Alice Tilley, Pixabay