Mental Illness: Ways You Can Help



How to support someone dealing with a mental illness.

Sophia Geisler, Columnist

Mental illness isn’t something to be taken lightly, and it is a very tough battle for those struggling. However, watching somebody you love struggle can also be tough. A large portion of people want to help, but don’t know how to. Something important to note is that, for starters, it is not your job to act as a therapist for others (especially if you are not an adult). Second, sometimes you can’t help, and you must involve adults or experts.  But when you can help, here are some ways to support people you know are struggling.

(Note: I am not an expert and have never struggled with a diagnosed mental disorder. Do not take this as real medical advice. Please let us know if there is any misinformation.)


The first step to helping someone is understanding what they’re going through, and this varies between different illnesses and individuals. According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), most people with depression can feel a variety of things, including persistent feelings of “emptiness,” loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, being extra irritable, decreased energy, slow movements, and many more. Sometimes we don’t know someone is struggling, so learning the symptoms is important so we can help before it’s too late. If you are dealing with someone who constantly pushes you away or doesn’t want to be helped, Mental Health America provides a few tips. Listening and validating is one. Most people struggling don’t want to listen to what you’re concerned about; they want you to listen to what they’re going through instead. If you know someone who is suffering from depression, try making it a habit to ask them how their day went, how they’re feeling, if they’ve eaten or drank water, etc. If someone feels heard, they are more likely to open up. Another thing to remember is that you are not there to fix them. A common mistake made by those comforting others is that they feel as if they can simply fix the person struggling, which is not true. This also means to avoid lending out unwanted “advice” such as “well maybe try exercising!” or “have you ever tried just thinking positive?” It is also important to “do what you can, and accept what you can’t.” Sometimes someone else’s depression or mental health is beyond anything someone who isn’t struggling can handle. If the person you know is going to extreme lengths, such as self-harming, purchasing weapons, or more, contact someone who is a professional to help. 


According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most common mental disorder, existing in 18.1% of adults 18 and older. It has also increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic, according to the CDC. Anxiety can often be mixed up with stress; however, it’s very different. Symptoms of anxiety can include feelings of restlessness, having difficulty concentrating, having muscle tensions, etc. Anxiety is a broad term, including disorders such as Panic disorder, Phobia-related anxieties, social anxiety, etc. Since anxiety is not a permanently curable mental disorder, the easiest and most effective way to help someone struggling with it, according to greater good, is simply understanding it. This means taking the time to learn about personal triggers or situations that make the person feel anxious, and also paying attention to how they individually respond to anxiety-inducing situations. This can help you learn what places, phrases, noises, etc. can cause a panic attack. In the time of a panic attack, there are also a few things you can contribute. As HealthlinkBC states, one way to help is to keep calm yourself. If someone is experiencing a panic attack, the last thing they want to see is their friend or family member freaking out alongside them. Don’t make assumptions about what they may need; stay predictable. Ask them if they need a certain thing, person, or medication instead of just blatantly handing it to them. It’s also important to reduce the amount of stress being thrown onto them; try to get them into a place where they can gather themselves, for example. If you or a person you know struggles with anxiety, another solution could be getting them into therapy or any kind of professional help. 

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a very tricky disorder. According to NIMH, it causes patients to have emotional outbursts or manic episodes that can last for weeks. It causes a person to experience very intense mood swings. An example of this is when a person feels up, excited, and ecstatic, and then only a few hours later feeling burnt out, depressed, and irritable. According to the International Bipolar Foundation, there are a few ways you can help. The first, of course, is to educate yourself on how the disorder works, both individually and scientifically. Another thing you can do is to keep reassuring them they are a valid and heard member of society. You can do this by avoiding the idea of treating them differently, and understanding when they need time alone. You can also invite them out to do activities and such. Normally, people with depressive or manic disorders distance themselves, which can cause the disorder to increase. Another thing you can do, like others, is just listening and understanding without the mindset that you can fix the problem. People will ask for advice when they need it, and when it’s unasked for it can make it even worse. It’s also effective to not take the things they say when experiencing lows to heart; understand that it is not their fault when they cope in ways that seem destructive. 

Eating Disorders

The term ‘eating disorder’ is very broad; there are a variety of different kinds, such as bulimia, anorexia, binge eating disorder, pica, rumination disorder, etc. Symptoms of an eating disorder can include restricted eating, losing or gaining weight at a rapid pace, etc, according to the NIMH. Eating disorders are very serious and can even turn out to be fatal. If someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is recommended that you reach out to an adult. Similar to other disorders, if you want to help, start by educating yourself. It’s easy to blame someone with an eating disorder; it’s an addiction. If the person you know’s eating disorder is fueled by appearing “beautiful,” sometimes reminding them you think they’re fine the way they look, isn’t enough. Try sticking to the facts. According to the NEDA, it is effective to stay firm, and keep your statements from being vague. Simply saying “just eat,” does nothing. Instead, you can try saying things like, “I’m really concerned about your eating habits.” Remind them that there are people around them that notice their struggle, and that care. Encourage them to seek help; similar to substance abuse disorders, help won’t actually do anything unless the person wants to recover. Eating disorders are very serious and are definitely something that you should reach out to an adult about if you know someone who is struggling.   

 Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse is typically a topic that children shouldn’t be exposed to, and something that you should involve an adult with. Many people choose to “help” people struggling with addiction by force or by blaming them. It is important to notice that most people who are addicted to something, one, don’t notice it, or two, don’t choose to be addicted. According to the NIMH, addiction is something that can coexist with other disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, depression, and more. Substance use disorder is something that can run in families, which means genes can be a risk factor. Stress, trauma, anxiety, etc. are also risk factors, considering a large portion of people who struggle with SUDs (substance use disorders) use their substances as a coping mechanism. Substance abuse is not necessarily something you can personally help, especially if the victim is someone who has been addicted for a long time. Rehabilitation centers and behavioral therapies are typically recommended. If you know someone who struggles with addiction, it is crucial to contact an adult or professional. If someone is deep in their addiction, they won’t get help unless they want to; and the help won’t actually affect them unless they are letting it. This is something you should leave to the professionals. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, it is extremely important to seek help. Mental health isn’t something to be taken lightly. There are so many ways to contribute, like ending the stigma or educating yourself about what other people struggle with so you can better understand those around you. Click here for a list of national helplines.