This page is for friends and family who would like to support someone who is experiencing a mental health problem.
It can be very difficult to see someone who you care about becoming distressed and unwell, but you don’t need to be an expert on mental health to offer support. Often, small everyday actions can make the biggest difference. For example:
(For information on how you can support someone with a specific diagnosis, you can look up that diagnsosis in our A–Z of mental health and visit the 'for friends and family' page within that information. Also see our page on supporting someone else to seek help for a mental health problem.)
Show your support
If you know someone has been unwell, don’t be afraid to ask how they are. They might want to talk about it, or they might not. But just letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is important. Spending time with your loved one lets them know you care, and can help you understand what they’re going through.
Sometimes all you need is a hug and for someone to tell you that you're going to get there.
Ask how you can help
Everyone will want support at different times and in different ways, so ask how you can help. It might be useful to help keep track of medication, or give support at a doctor’s appointment. If your friend wants to get more exercise, you could do this together, or if your partner is affected by lack of sleep, you could help them get into a regular sleeping pattern.
Phrases like ‘cheer up’, ‘I’m sure it’ll pass’ and ‘pull yourself together’ definitely don’t help. Try to be non-judgemental and listen. Someone experiencing a mental health problem often knows best what's helpful for them.
Leave out the 'cheer up' comments, they don't help and force my low moods lower as my condition is being made a joke of.
Don’t just talk about mental health
Keep in mind that having a mental health problem is just one aspect of your friend or family member's life. Most people don’t want to be defined by their mental health problem, so keep talking about the things you've always talked about together.
For me, it is good to have them there to talk to me about other things, and take my mind off negative thoughts.
Show trust and respect
Trust and respect between you and your friend or family member are very important – they help to rebuild and maintain a sense of self-esteem, which a mental health problem can seriously damage. This can also help you to cope a bit better if you can see your support having a positive impact on the person you care about.
Look after yourself
Supporting someone else can sometimes be stressful. Making sure that you look after your own wellbeing can mean that you have the energy, time and distance you need to be able to help. For example:
- Set boundaries and don't take too much on. If you become unwell yourself you won't be able to offer as much support. (See our pages on how to manage stress for more information.)
- Share your caring role with others, if you can. It's often easier to support someone well if you're not doing it alone.
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. You may want to be careful about how much information you share about the person you’re supporting, but talking about your own feelings with someone you trust can help you feel supported too.
If your friend or relative has been given a needs assessment, you may be entitled to have your needs as a carer assessed and taken into account. (See our pages on How to cope when supporting someone else for more information. You can also visit the Carers UK website.)
This information was published in December 2015. We will revise it in 2018.