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How to Help Someone Struggling with Mental Illness

One in 5 Tennesseans struggles with mental illness, which means even if you aren’t affected, you know someone who is.

Here are a few ways you can help someone who may be struggling, starting with seeing the signs of crisis and ending with offering ongoing support.

1. Look for warning signs

When you think someone may be having a mental health crisis, the most important things to look for are suicidal behaviors or signs of self-harm.

These can include:

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Talking or writing about death or suicide
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Engaging in risky activities
  • Appearing agitated or angry
  • Having a dramatic change in mood
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Threatening to hurt oneself
  • Seeking access to means to hurt oneself

If you believe a person’s life is in immediate danger, do not leave them alone, and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

  • If you are worried about the teens in your life, click here.
  • To learn more about suicide prevention in Tennessee, click here.

2. Listen without judgment

Listening is a skill, and having a meaningful conversation takes patience and practice. Listening to a person who is struggling with mental illness is a critical step in helping a person feel respected, accepted and heard. Start with an open body posture, keep non-threatening eye contact and try these 5 tips for being a better listener.

3. Offer reassurance

Mental illness and addiction are treatable illnesses, and it’s important to remind people struggling with either that people can and do recover from both. When talking to someone who may have a mental illness or substance abuse issue, respect their feelings, offer them dignity and don’t blame them for their symptoms or actions.

4. Encourage them to seek help

People in crisis need help from professionals who can treat mental illness or addiction. Those professionals include doctors (primary care physicians or psychiatrists), certified peer specialists, social workers, counselors, or other mental health professionals. Treatment can range from therapy to medication, but the most important step is asking a qualified provider for help. Find one here.

5. Foster self-help

People struggling with mental illness can improve their health and wellness in many ways:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Support groups
  • Self-help books
  • Engaging with family, friends and social networks
  • Going to church or participating in other community-centered activities

All of these activities can be enjoyed with a supportive friend. Pick an activity from the list above — jogging, yoga, joining a book club or taking a class at a community center — and invite your friend or co-worker to join you. Set a specific time and date so the person knows you are making concrete plans that you’ll both be held accountable for. Having something to look forward to can make a big difference.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.

WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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