The Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with Someone with a Mental Illness

in Health, Relationships & Family, You

Do you know someone with a mental illness?  Maybe you feel unsure about what to do or say as you don’t know how your words or actions will be perceived.  Or maybe you just like to know a little more.  Then,  please keep on reading!

help wanted

Photo credit: Brenda Gottsabend

What follows is a list of things you can do,  not do and say to someone with a mental illness by someone with a mental illness.  By no means is this list complete.  For that reason I have added some further reading material at the bottom.

What to do:

  1. Learn more about the illness. You need to know what your friend or relative is dealing with.  This is so helpful for both you and us.
  2. Separate the person from the illness. We are more than our mental illness.  Thank God!
  3. Respect us. Even though we have a mental illness, it doesn’t render us stupid or dumb.
  4. When we isolate ourselves,   show that you care by calling us or stopping by.
  5. Ask us what we need or how you can help during our good times, so we can decide together what is best for both you and us when we are in an episode.
  6. Offer to go with us or drive us to appointments if we need it.
  7. Offer to help with practical chores. Especially when we are depressed, household chores are way too hard to keep up with.   It’s such a blessing when someone steps in and does our stacked-up-week-old dishes.  Or cleans the bathroom.  Does the shopping.  Cooks a meal.  Etc.
  8. Encourage us to keep taking our medication. When we complain about the side effects, encourage us to go to our psychiatrist to talk about it.
  9. Encourage us to get professional help if we don’t have already.  Even when we are stable we need it so we stay stable.
  10. Encourage us to go to our psychiatrist or other mental health carer when we are not doing well.  Make sure we go when we continue to be unwell.
  11. Have humor –  laughter lightens the soul :)
  12. Ensure you have contact numbers (for those who are very close to someone with MI).
  13. Ask if we are thinking of hurting ourselves (for those who are very close to someone with MI).
  14. Take care of yourself. It’s not good for either of us if you give yourself away,  nor is it healthy.
  15. Set boundaries. It might not be easy, but it’s absolutely necessary to maintain a healthy relationship between us.


  1. Take strange behaviour personally when we are having an episode (especially mania,  delusions,  hallucinations).
  2. Change your role as a friend or relative into that of a caregiver.  You can care for us without becoming a caregiver.  But we need you as our friend or relative.
  3. Neglect yourself –  know your boundaries of what you can give and what not.  Set your limits and discuss those with us during our good times.

Tell us:

  1. That we are strong. MI is not a weakness, if anything it has made us stronger in who we are by dealing with it.
  2. That we are not to blame. No one is to blame.  We just happen to have it.
  3. That we are not guilty for having a MI.  It’s nobody’s fault.
  4. That we do not need to be ashamed of our mental illness.
  5. That we are courageous for dealing with our illness.  Especially when confronted with the fall out our episodes can cause.  It’s so hard to deal with that, people,  so hard…  But also necessary for us to maintain healthy relationships.
  6. That we are not alone.
  7. That you care,  no matter what mood we are in or what is happening to us due to our illness.

What would you do or say? Can you add to the list?

For further reading:

Helping someone with a mental illness ~ for youth between 14 -25 years

60 Tips for Helping People who have Schizophrenia ~ very helpful for those of us with Bipolar Disorder as well

Supporting the Mentally Ill: Best Things to Say ~ Natasha Tracy

How to Help Someone With a Mental Illness ~ Natasha Tracy