Do you know someone with a mental health illness?

Mental illness is something that a lot of people find hard to talk about but it can be quite common. Do you know someone you think has a mental illness? It could be anybody – a parent or carer, a brother or sister, a relation or a friend.

You might not fully understand what a mental illness is and how to react and because of this you could feel quite scared or worried about it.

Mental illness symptoms can sometimes be quite extreme, shocking and upsetting and because of this you might find it easier for you to ignore the situation and the person.

The words ‘mental illness’ can create a lot of images or ideas in your mind. You need to remember that just as people’s bodies can become unwell, so can people’s minds – we can see if someone has broken their arm, but we can’t always see if someone has a mental illness.

Once you find out more about mental illness, you realise that it’s not as frightening as you first thought.

How to help someone that you think has a mental illness:

  • Listen to them and try to understand.
  • Don’t expect them to just snap out of it.
  • Don’t criticise or make fun of them.
  • Try to get them to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Give them time to talk – be patient.
  • Try to encourage them to get help – make suggestions.

There are some quite serious mental illnesses such as self-harm, eating disorders or schizophrenia. If you know someone who may have one of these problems, you may feel shocked, guilty, or angry, but it can also be hard to know how to help them.

To start, you should try to get them to talk to you or someone they trust. Try to keep an open mind and don’t judge the person, take time to listen to them and to help them find a way of managing their problems. Offer to go with them to tell someone or offer to tell someone on their behalf.

Carry on the ordinary activities you do together but don’t be offended if they don’t want to handle the problem the way you suggested.

People who have a mental illness may need help from a specialist person in the health service. Their doctor can arrange for this to happen and then they can be given some treatment to help them get better, which may involve a course of counselling or maybe some medication. Sometimes, if the illness is very bad, the person may have to go into hospital.

Who can help?

The Samaritans can provide confidential emotional support, 24 hours a day. They are there for you to talk to if your worried about something, feel upset, confused or if you feel you just want to talk to someone. www.samaritans.org.uk/

Young Minds is a national charity committed to improving the mental health of all children and young people. Visit www.youngminds.org.uk/index.php.