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

Leave a Comment


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

The Crazy Rambler June 2, 2011 at 2:34 pm

@bodynsoil I am so sorry about your terrible experience! How sad that is for everyone involved… It’s the flip side of freedom, in the sense that we have a right to our own choices, as long as this person is not a danger to themselves or their surrooundings.

You are very wise in your decisions.

Continue to take good care of yourself!

bodynsoil June 2, 2011 at 9:52 am

@The Crazy Rambler They work at various school systems but don’t stay in one place long as they alienate their workmates and it is very unhealthy. I don’t work with this person, unfortunately this is a relative. The entire family is aware, they all keep an arms length away and try to shield the mother from the main brunt of the wrath. Intervention, I tried when the family all asked me to assist, then when the going got tough they all bailed and left me standing alone to face the brunt of the fire storm.. After that experience I decided that from that point forward that group would have to work alone on any further intervention projects.

The Crazy Rambler June 1, 2011 at 4:02 am

@bodynsoil Wow! Re the professional environment: I wonder who is at the top that allows this situation to continue? This is unhealthy for everyone involved… intervention seems necessary to me. Is there any way to approach a boss?

I am so sorry that you are caught up in this 🙁

The Crazy Rambler June 1, 2011 at 3:58 am

@bodynsoil You did the right thing in setting your boundaries! Good for you! But it still sucks…

The Crazy Rambler June 1, 2011 at 3:55 am

@Tia Peterson *blushing* Thank YOU for creating this community and making it work!!! You are such an encourager, thank you for that valuable asset. You are a precious woman in every way! Thanks for being a blessing to me.

bodynsoil May 31, 2011 at 2:32 pm

No there has been no official diagnosis, a Counselor has suggested further diagnosis with a specialist, for treatment of course, that wasn’t followed up on. I agree that the people who “protect” this individual aren’t doing them any favors or helping the situation. Much like people who “protect” addicts as it only adds power to the situation and not cure.

Oddly enough this person will tell you what other professionals say about them, then rationalizes that every else is wrong, even when everyone else agrees on the same topic.

bodynsoil May 31, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Manipulation is a huge factor, this is something that has caused so much hurt and pain to those around this person. I hate to say it but I had to step back from the environment because it had become toxic, it was having a negative impact on my life.

Tia Peterson May 31, 2011 at 7:37 am

Well I also appreciate your conversations on Twitter. Really, you’re fantastic. Can’t thank you enough for helping make this place a community.

Tia Peterson May 30, 2011 at 1:03 pm

I love this list and I think that it’s got a lot of care and common sense in it. I especially like what you said about calling someone or contacting someone who is isolating themselves.

I appreciate you posting an article like this, because it’s so helpful and honest. Thank you!

The Crazy Rambler May 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Tia, thank you so much for having me as a part of BCB! I am so happy and honored!

Glad you like the content! Hope to be providing some more useful posts 🙂

Evelyn Parham May 30, 2011 at 11:02 am

Hi Fenny,

Great tips!

This post hit close to home. I have dealt with a close relative having a mental illness since I was a young child. It was not easy dealing with it while growing up, but I learned to adjust.

The most important thing that I have learned is to be a good listener, supporter and to accept the good with the bad. And to also seek help, when it is needed.

Thanks for shedding light on mental illness!

Take care,


The Crazy Rambler May 30, 2011 at 12:44 pm


Thanks for adding your view, as one who has dealt with one of “us”! I know I can be pretty overwhelming and tough to handle when I get hypomanic (I am Bipolar I). Sometimes I’m simply too much for a person. Which is hard on the both of us.

Dealing with mental illness around you must have been pretty tough as a child! I think what you say is key: seek help when needed.

I love to be part of BCB 🙂 and am soooo excited!


Michelle @ Italian Mama Chef May 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Fenny girl, you know I love ya and this is a great list. I’m going to be bold and come out and say that I, too, have a mental illness. It’s called bipolar type 2. You know this because we are “in real life” friends and have been for a number of years. Many of my online friends don’t know this about me. I’ve kept that part of myself out of the blogging world, this time around, because I was not centering on that part of my life with my food blog.

But you know what? It does affect my food blog!!! I lose the desire to blog in spurts just like a mood swing. I lose my creativity and the ability to focus on being creative at home, in my kitchen. But when I am in a good place the creativity flows like crazy!

There was a time when I blogged all about my mental illness, I began my first online blog when blogging was brand new and I talked about my journey to wellness. I am now in a stable place with my medicine and counseling. I do well most days so writing of my illness is no longer in the forefront of my mind or a priority.

I am so glad you have taken to blogging about mental illness and opening the doors for the rest of us. We need to be there for each other and we need others to know how to help us when we are down.

The Crazy Rambler May 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Sweet Michelle! Thanks to be the first to comment, that means a lot! And more power to you for letting the internet world know. And yes, I all too well know how it impacts our lives in the flowing up and down, sometimes ever so gentle, but still having influence.
Didn’t know you blogged so long time ago, cool! Is that blog still somewhere around?
I am so thrilled and honored to be part of now!
Love ya lots!

Dave Lucas May 29, 2011 at 8:39 am

A couple I know could not have children, so they adopted a child from South America, who, by the time was in the early teens, was diagnosed with a mental illness. Rather than be crushed, the couple learned all they could about the malady, and kept this youngster, who was not of their own blood, at home where they gave all of their love and free time. (Enduring a few ‘terrible’ episodes in the process.) With love and treatment, that child is now a young person of 21, attending a local community college. It was the undying love and commitment on the parents part, coupled with therapy and treatment, that save this soul and enriched three lives – maybe even more.

The Crazy Rambler May 29, 2011 at 5:25 pm

That is an example of comittment that I love! And yes, the fact that his parents, even though not biologically, yet in heart, stood with this child through thick and thin no matter what is a true witness of what parenthood is all about. I am sure that they have spoken to many hearts, bearing witness as they went along their journey.
Thanks for sharing!

BodynSoil May 29, 2011 at 6:01 am

I know of someone with a mental illness that doesn’t seek treatment and is in complete denial regarding their condition. Unfortunately, this has created a situation that has had a negative impact on their social and professional environment. Everyone around this person is aware of the situation, not one has the strength or energy to bring the issue to the forefront. For reasons unknown the person exacts a certain emotional control over those around them and they are more involved in protecting emotions rather than getting this person the help they so need.

Michelle @ Italian Mama Chef May 29, 2011 at 1:07 pm

That is the hardest part for those who know someone like that, watching them hurt, control and manipulate those around them. It’s hard for me to watch as well because I know what the other side of wellness can look like but it takes a lot of work to get here. Keep your chin up, maybe just by knowing more about their illness you can be of help?

The Crazy Rambler May 29, 2011 at 5:41 pm

What a challenging situation to be in!
As I understand it this person has been diagnosed, but denies the diagnosis and therefore refuses treatment, right?
That is a hard one since you can’t force people to believe or deny something. Hopefully the denial will run it’s course soon.
Also, something to think about: if others will let this person get away with his/her behavior, it might not dawn on this person that there is actually a problem, which in turn strengthens the believe that ‘nothing is wrong’ with him/her.
Take care!

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