It can be tricky to spot that a loved one is suffering from a mental illness. They may not even realise it themselves, and it can be a friend or family member who notices it first. Noticing early can help your dear one to recover from mental illness faster and prevent their mental health to worsen further.

How can I spot a mental illness?

Are you that friend or family member who asks, ‘are you ok?’ only for this prompting to make your friend or family realise that they actually weren’t OK but hadn’t realised until you asked?!

Many factors can be seen as expected and ‘normal’ moments in life: new beliefs, changes in mood, a niggling voice in the head. They’re all normal, right? Hmmm – they totally can be. However, it can be difficult to differentiate mental illness from just ‘going through a bit of a hard time’.

If you’re worried about a friend or relative’s mental health, encouraging them to visit their GP is the best course of action. GPs are highly trained to ask the right questions, analyse the answers and come up with a sensible diagnosis.

What if my friend or a family member has been diagnosed with a mental illness?

Firstly, your friend or family member may or may not accept the fact they have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

If they are accepting of the diagnosis, then that is the first box ticked. It’s a super crucial initial step.

If they are not accepting of the diagnosis – in denial – then the path is a little trickier, but with guidance from medical professionals (even if having to coerce your friend or family to attend appointments), you can help your loved one come to terms with the diagnosis.

Treatment options

Routes to recover from mental illness may involve one or a combination of the following:

• Medication (e.g. anti-depressants)
• Talking therapies (such as counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, life coaching etc.)
• Relaxation (breathing exercises, mindfulness)
• Activity (classes, gym, running, increase in walking)
• Nutrition (improvements or modifications in diet)

How can I help?

It’s sometimes difficult to know how you can help those struggling with their mental health but there are some very straightforward ideas. Simple is effective, and you really can’t go wrong with these:

• The main thing you can do to help friends or family in need, whatever the problems, is just to be there. Be responsive to their messages; their calls, texts, WhatsApp or e-mails. The worst thing is to feel ignored and neglected. Just being that person at the end of the phone can be the best thing you can ever offer.

• Listen … always listen. Only allowing someone that time to talk and off-load can be incredibly empowering.

• Check they know where they can reach immediate, professional support if they need it (e.g. Samaritans, local A&E etc.).

• If they are taking medications, encourage them to continue the required dose at the correct intervals – at times, people can easily give up on medication for fear it is not benefiting them.

Other things to take into consideration, but which are often overlooked are as follows:

• Housing – is your friend’s home adequate? Are they managing to pay the rent/mortgage and bills? Is it warm and comfortable? Their safe haven?

• Food/nutrition – are they looking after themselves from a diet point of view? Diet can have a significant effect on mental health.

• Work/study – depending on their situation, are they continuing with work or studies? Encouraging continuance is daily routine is the key to recovery.

• Friends – are they still socialising with friends? Can you encourage them to meet up with a friend or two?

Everyone is different. Everyone will deal with mental illness differently and will recover from mental illness differently, but the key is to get that person’s life back to an acceptable level. With a support network around them including friends, family and health professionals, that CAN be achieved.

It is important to understand that it is NOT your responsibility as friends or family to fix things. But you can be there. To listen. To encourage. To steer. To ensure there is no isolation. And if you can do any of that, then you are one fab individual.

Thanks for reading everyone! Your small effort can help your loved one to recover from mental illness that even they may not able to spot alone.

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