Supporting someone through a mental health challenge

How we provide support to someone experiencing a mental illness or mental health challenge is important to the person’s recovery from that challenge.

A person comforting another by holding their hands.
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Mental health problems are common. It is likely that you know someone that has been impacted by mental illness. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in five Americans will experience a mental illness in any given year.

Mental illnesses are “health conditions involving significant changes in thinking, emotion, and/or behavior,” according to the American Psychiatric Association. Some of the most common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety. While there is not one identifiable cause of mental illness, the CDC reports that factors such as “early adverse life experiences, such as trauma or history of abuse, having a chronic medical condition, biological factors or chemical imbalances in the brain, use of alcohol or drugs, or having feelings of loneliness or isolation” can increase a person’s risk of developing a mental illness. Recovery from a mental health challenge is possible with treatment and/or support.

While not everyone will need to seek professional help for a mental health challenge, the sooner that someone does get the help that they need, the better the outcome for their recovery. Knowing what mental health resources are available in your community will help prepare you should you need to connect the individual to professional help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Locator can help to identify mental health services in your area.

Knowing how to effectively support someone experiencing a mental illness or mental health challenge is important, and your efforts can decrease stigma around the person accessing mental health services. You can help someone that you are concerned about by offering consistent emotional support. Some suggestions include:

  • Letting the person know you care about their well-being and can be a trusted person to talk with.
  • Trying to be patient with the person you are concerned about and keeping communication open by remaining non-judgmental in your interactions.
  • Using person-first language, which recognizes the person before any diagnosis or illness.
  • Maintaining confidentiality unless the person mentions harm to themselves or others. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) supports those experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors as well as provides guidance for those supporting a suicidal person.

Additionally, learning about mental health can help build confidence in your efforts to support someone. Mental Health First Aid is an empowering training that teaches participants how to assist a person experiencing a mental illness or mental health challenge using a five-step action plan referred to as ALGEE. Over 2.5 million Americans are trained in Mental Health First Aid. Michigan State University Extension has been offering Mental Health First Aid since 2017, and 97% or our participants say they can better recognize the signs of a mental health crisis. To sign up for a Mental Health First Aid training, please visit the MSU Extension Mental Health First Aid website for more information and to register for upcoming training dates.

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