Mental health problems – an introduction

Explains what mental health problems are, what may cause them, and the many different kinds of help, treatment and support that are available. Also provides guidance on where to find more information, and tips for friends and family.

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 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.

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.

Close up of hands holding a mug

Supporting my daughter through crisis

"...[D]espite mental health problems, with the right support, people can overcome a crisis."

"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.

Be open-minded

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.

Photo of Kate and her partner relaxed and smiling

Caring for my husband with bipolar

"Caring is lonely. It is an unrelenting task."

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 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.

Get support

You may be entitled to social care support from your Local Authority to help you care for your friend or family member. You can contact them directly and ask for a carers assessment (see our pages on carers' social care rights and how to cope when supporting someone else for more information).

The charity Carers UK also provide more information and support for carers.

Find more information on helping someone else:

This information was published in October 2017. We will revise it in 2020.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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