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Are you worried someone close to you might be battling with their mental health? You’re not alone. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition, many undiagnosed.

Like any other health problem, someone with a mental health issue needs extra love and support.  You may not be able to physically see the issue, but it doesn’t mean that you’re powerless to help. If you are unsure of how best to approach someone who may be struggling, these tips may help.

How to know when to help

It’s important to understand the warning signs that come with different mental health issues. Some signs that a friend or family member may need your help include: 

  • Suddenly they lack interest in hobbies and other interests they used to love
  • They are talking about taking their life or feeling hopeless
  • They are avoiding their close friends and family members
  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  • They seem emotionally numb like they don’t feel anything anymore
  • They used to be healthy, but now they’re always saying they feel a bit sick or “off”
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Drastic changes in mood, behavior, personality or sleeping habits.
  • They seem to be anxious or overwhelmed about situations or objects in life that seem normal to you and to others
  • Repeated use of drugs or drinking heavily to cope
  • They have mentioned or seem to be hearing strange voices or having unsettling thoughts

What you can do to help

Start the conversation

Just a simple conversation can go a long way in helping your friend. Share your observations with your friend. Focus on being nonjudgmental, compassionate and understanding. Make sure to actively listen and use “I” (instead of “you”) comments to get the conversation started.

Examples:

  • I've noticed that you haven't been acting like yourself lately. Do you want to talk about it?
  • I am someone who cares and wants to listen. What do you want me to know about how you are feeling?
  • I’ve noticed you’re [sleeping more, eating less, etc.]. Is everything okay?

Offer support

Keep in mind that your friend might not be ready to talk about what they’re going through or simply may not want your help right now. Be patient, understanding and provide them with hope. You can make sure they know they are not alone, it can be a comfort just to know that they have people that care.

 It’s also important to support their healthy behaviors. Strategies such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising can be helpful when managing one’s mental health. Supporting your friend by eliminating or reducing alcohol or drug use is another great way to help him or her build healthy habits.

Be a friend

Being a friend means being there in easy times and more difficult times. If your friend is experiencing a mental health condition, this is a time when he or she needs you the most. Sometimes just talking about it might help your friend feel less alone and more understood.

 Here are some ways you can show you care:

  • Be a resource for them by giving them ideas on where they can go to get help.
  • Check-in with them regularly.
  • Learn more about mental health conditions.
  • Treat them with a non-judgemental attitude, empathy, and honesty.

Get Advice

Helping a friend with mental illness can be hard to handle by yourself. Don't hesitate to reach out to someone and talk about how you’re feeling as a friend/caregiver, especially  for advice to most effectively help your friend. Consider talking to a trusted individual in your life like a family member, counselor, teacher, faith leader, or friend.

 You can be the difference in helping a friend who needs support but is too afraid to seek help.  It could save his or her life!

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