3 Ways to Help/Harm Someone with Mental Illness

As an individual who has struggled (and still struggles) through major bouts of depression and anxiety, I can say that there is one issue with Mental Health that always needs to be addressed. That issue just so happens to Mental Health Awareness/Education. I believe that Mental Health is a polarizing topic that divides people into one of three groups:

  1. The Ill
    • This person is the one actively dealing with the Mental Health issue. Mental Health America states that there are over 200 forms of mental illness on record. It is also categorized that at least 18% of the American population deals with some sort of Anxiety disorder on a normal basis (National Alliance on Mental Illness). NAMI also states that somewhere between 6-7% of adults deal with severe depression daily. Safe to say that this is an issue that has huge implications and even greater devastation in the lives of those who suffer (Read the statistics).
  2. The Ignorant
    • Honestly, using this word to describe this group comes with a love/hate relationship behind it. I love using the word “ignorant” because it simply means “uneducated”. It allows me to be blunt but prove a point. I also hate using the word because it means “uneducated”. Sadly, this means that many people don’t understand anything about Mental Health. Get the point? There aren’t many things that I loathe more than the stigmatism surrounding Mental Health. The main antagonists behind this stigma are those of ignorance. Honestly, they don’t know any better; either that or they simply don’t have the time, patience, or care to know any better (We all know a few of those people). Sadly enough, the burden of education falls on the shoulders of those who have walked (or walk) in the shoes of Mental Illness. Most days we just don’t have the strength or energy to care about education. It’s pretty much a lose/lose battle. This will be addressed later…Stick with me…
  3. The Educated
    • These people are few and far between but when you find one it’s like you’ve stumbled upon the last piece of cake. It’s beautifully encouraging to locate someone who actually knows something about Mental Health and is doing something to help. Unfortunately, there really aren’t that many in the grand scheme of things.

So, what am I supposed to do? It’s almost like a two way battle between the ill and the ignorant and neither side is winning. Well, apart from my typical posts trying to encourage those who are ill, I’m going to take some time and address the ignorant. Let’s partake in a little Mental Health 101 with Confessions, shall we?


Here are my 3 ways to help/harm someone who is Mentally Ill


Since I’m typically negative, my natural inclination is to begin with the 3 harmful ways. Why fix it if it ain’t broke, am I right?

  1. The first way to harm someone who is mentally ill is to assume/jump to conclusions
    • Let’s be honest. The mainstream media doesn’t do us much good when the only thing you hear about the latest mass shooting is that it was caused by a Mentally Ill individual. I just want to reassure/instill the thought inside your head/heart that we are not all like that. In fact, the majority of us are all normal people with a simple (not really) disease. Just like someone’s heart can get sick, someone’s brain can get sick too. The greatest way you can harm a loved one, or someone you know, who deals with mental illness is by assuming the worst. I’ve experienced this a few times and there is nothing more debilitating than someone who accounts your value based upon your sickness. This is not an ok thing to do. It hurts and it only serves to push someone deeper into depression. Stop assuming that we’re all nut-cases and take the initiative in learning how to love us. Please.
  2. The second way you can damage someone who is mentally ill is by ostracizing us
    • This kind of goes hand in hand with number one but it bears worthy of being repeated. Your natural, negative assumptions about something you have no idea about will lead you to keep your distance from that object. Right? The same goes with your natural, negative assumptions about mental illness. Your  assertions about who we are will more than likely motivate you to refrain from entering into our presence. Let me just say this without getting angry….WE ARE NORMAL PEOPLE. Dangit…I got angry. Oh well. One thing I hate the most is being viewed as less valuable, culturally unacceptable, and just plain unworthy of someone’s love and care because I may be unstable. It’s not our fault you don’t understand why we’re hurting. It’s also not our fault that we push away from people like yourself. Your negative-nancy, too-good-for-you attitude drives us up a wall. You’re not helping by keeping your distance; you’re only hurting.
  3. The last way (on my list) that you can hurt someone who is mentally ill is by being the Advice Genie
    • ” Ok, ok Matt. I get it. You want me to involve myself in your pain. Alright, here’s what I would do if I were in your shoes…” Woah, woah, woah. Stop the advice bus before you drive off a cliff. You aren’t in my shoes and odds are you’ve never stepped a foot inside my pair of shoes. What gives you the right to tell me how to walk in my pair of Jordans? I can only imagine that some of you may be collectively rolling your eyes and mumbling, “Well, what the heck do you want from me then?” Here’s my answer. Stop giving me cliche advice; especially if you’re only giving me cliche advice because you don’t know how to handle me. Odds are, if you find yourself saying any of these things, you don’t know much of how to deal with/help a mentally ill individual…
      1. “If I were you…”
      2. “Just be glad that…”
      3. “Well, it really helps to keep things in perspective”
      4. “You’ll be just fine. Just keep your chin up.”
      5. “Someone has it worse than you”
    • Please, if you find yourself tempted to say any of those things to someone who is sad, just keep quiet. You’ll only do more harm than good.

So, with that said, how in the world does someone go about loving, caring, and encouraging someone with Mental Illness? I’m glad you asked! Here are 3 ways (definitely not all inclusive but good starting points).

  1. Engage/Initiate
    • The horrendous truth of Mental Illness is that one of its symptoms is withdrawal. I’m not speaking of drug withdrawal but rather isolation. Our minds trick us into believing that everyone is out to get us and that any contact with the outside world will only make it worse. Sadly, when we do open up, most of us find ourselves on the wrong end of an advice beating. What was a plea for help quickly became a whipping session. This only proves our initial instinct correct and we isolate ourselves even further. If you happen to notice someone who is struggling, my biggest encouragement to you is to engage them.  Tell them that you’ve noticed a recent downward tumble into sadness and that you want to know if there’s anything you can do for them. While we may not immediately open up to you, I guarantee that it will take us by surprise and we will be much more inclined to trust you with our hearts in the future. The key to remember is patience, patience, patience.
  2. Ask Questions
    • When we finally open up to you, the best way to help us is by asking questions. Simply said, there is nothing you can say/tell us to do that will spur us out of our depression/downward spiral if we, ourselves, don’t know what caused it. Personally, I come out of my “moments” when I know what put me there. This gives me a foundation to stand on and a chance to realize what is real and what isn’t. The best way to help us understand this is by asking questions. The advice that is sitting on the tip of your tongue may be valid and incredibly correct, but unless we realize it for ourselves, you can pretty much kiss any chance of helping us goodbye. Ask us questions. It shows us that you care enough to dig with us and help us understand ourselves. It makes a world of difference
  3. Listen
    • The number one reason for people not understanding those who are mentally ill is they feel like they can’t find the right thing to say. Can I ask you a question? Yes? Good. What if there isn’t a right thing to say? What if you shouldn’t “say” anything? Yes, I know I just told you to ask questions but my point is this: If you find yourself interjecting your “wisdom” at every opportunity you get, odds are we will shut down. We know when someone is listening and attentive and when someone just wants to get the conversation over with. We also know how to shut down and stay that way. My advice (ironic isn’t it?) is this: Stay silent. Let us do the talking. Only perk up when you have a question that benefits the conversation. One thing that worked well with me in counseling was when my counselor wanted to make a point. Instead of just telling me his thought, he asked me. For instance, my first session he said something like this (after I told him why I was there), “So, would you say that you’re more interested in the idea of relationships or with the person whom you’re in a relationship with?” Bingo. It hit me so hard. I literally felt the wind expunge from my lungs. He made his point but he made me answer with my opinion. I could have said no and then explained why but I didn’t. I knew he was right but he forced me to admit it myself. As I said above, your advice is probably great but it won’t ever get across to us if it doesn’t resonate within our own hearts.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I wanted to sit down, vent, but hopefully encourage/educate you on how to best help someone with Mental Illness. It’s a question I’ve received before and only expect to continue receiving. I firmly believe in advocating for the voiceless. I have felt their pain (and still do) and only wish to be the middle man between them and the culture we live in. Awareness needs be raised and if something like this helps, then I’ve been successful.


Any questions? Comments? I’m open to all opinions. Just leave a comment down below and I’ll do my best to converse with you as soon as possible.


Much love to you all. Until next time…



19 Replies to “3 Ways to Help/Harm Someone with Mental Illness”

  1. you hit the hammer on the head! this could be an attempt start for the ignorant.

    here are some other signs of an advice genie:

    have you thought about…

    consider this…

    it would be great if you just did…

    how about…

    you might feel better if you did…

    i hate advice genies. i wish i could take three bits of advice and send them back to their lamp. as aladdin said in the movie aladdin, “I’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig. phenomenal cosmic powers! itty bitty living space!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha oh my friend, how true is that! It’s amazing the wisdom and knowledge some people claim to have over a topic they may know nothing about. Thanks for the comment, reblog, and the laugh! I’ll have to hop over to your page and see what’s happening over there.


  2. Interesting post. Thank you. I wager there are more people ‘functioning’ with anxiety and depressive disorders than the statistics indicate.As you say, the stigma surrounding mental illness is strong and strong enough for those in a position to recognise it for what it is to remain in denial. Even myself, I was surrounded by family who spoke openly and respectfully of mental illness yet I couldn’t see how much I time and energy I spent fighting my anxiety, because I was managing to ‘function’ I tolerated it for years. It was my ‘normal’.

    I call your ‘advice genies’, fixers – people who want to fix you. As long as their approach isn’t patronising, I don’t feel angry towards them. Even misguided kindness is still kindness. Education is indeed the key.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make an incredible point. It’s amazing how influential someone’s words can be in a situation like this. I’d think that it could be deadly too. I ended up in the hospital a few days ago for anxiety reasons and it seems as if I’m just “functioning” because of the stigma. I also love your point about misguided love. I hadn’t thought of that before!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Brain Different and commented:
    I love this. So many people want to help and don’t know how and like you said, those that suffer often don’t have the energy to teach. Then there are those that just don’t get it…what a great way to explain their ignorance! Thanks!


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