Helping someone who is emotionally or mentally suffering can be intimidating, especially when it is someone that you personally care about.

Although society is openly talking about mental health more and more, many people are still sometimes unsure about how to help and are left feeling apprehensive about responding at all. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” response to mental health, here are some suggestions on how to support loved ones with mental illness.

Actively listen.

Active listening is the pursuit of gaining a deep understanding of another individual’s feelings or perspective. Often when listening to others speak we are hearing what they are saying but mentally preparing for how we will respond. When we do this we are missing the opportunity to fully know someone and love them with our undivided attention.

  • Don’t give your advice or opinion. Although it comes from a good place, people don’t need you to fix their problems or provide a solution as often as you may think.

Offer Support. 

The most effective way to support someone who is suffering is simply to ask them how you can do so. Start by asking, “How can I be here for you?” or “How can I support you through this?” Let them be your guide and absolve yourself of the responsibility of figuring out what steps to take.

  • Don’t minimize their pain. Often people try and comfort by saying, “I know how you feel…” or “It will get better” or “There is a reason for everything.” These responses actually try to diminish or even move past someone’s hurt rather than acknowledging it to be real and painful.
Temple Bible Church college pastor with UMHB students

Set boundaries.

Boundaries in our physical world separate one object from another, like a door separates the outside of a home from the inside. Although the idea of creating boundaries can initially feel contradictory to providing help, boundaries are instrumental for maintaining a healthy relationship. Determining what level of support you are realistically able to provide will help serve as a protective measure for all parties involved.

  • Don’t become something you’re not. If you’re not a counselor then do not become someone’s counselor. If you’re not a doctor then do not find yourself filing this role. If you’re not currently emotionally stable enough to be someone’s support system then do not step into this position. Recognize the scope of your current abilities and then evaluate what you are capable of giving. 

Respond to emergencies.

If someone has mentioned harming themselves or suicidal thoughts, it can be extremely distressing. You may not know if you should take them seriously or how to even respond.

It is important to be sensitive but also direct. Ask them questions that provide clarity:

  • “Are you thinking about hurting yourself”
  • “Do you feel safe?”
  • “Are you thinking about suicide?”

If the response is anything other than a resounding “no,” then taking action is always the best choice. Talk with them about immediately going to go see a trained professional, discuss hospitalization, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). Most importantly, do not leave them alone until they have received immediate help.

  • Don’t assume they are safe. Take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. Intervention can make a difference and save a life.
UMHB students praying in Manning Chapel

Pray.

Satan frequently deceives us into thinking that we have to insert ourselves in order for our help to be substantial. Often the most essential thing that we could ever do for someone who is struggling is to pray for them and over them. We serve a good God who is in the business of doing great things. The enemy wants us to think that we are capable of doing the saving when each of us already has a Savior.

  • Don’t break confidentiality. Many people think that if you ask for others to pray for a loved one, then you have to provide an explanation behind the request. Other people’s struggles are not your stories. If you feel compelled to ask others to pray for your loved one, then please do so with complete discretion. 
The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor provides high quality, affordable counseling services to Belton and the surrounding communities through the Community Life Center. We also offer outstanding graduate programs in counseling.