12. Help & Support For Carers & Friends of Mental Illness Sufferers

I have seen mental health problems from both sides. I have lived with mental illness for most of my adult life. I’ve also seen my mother and friends suffer from it.

I know how it is hard on the carers, family and friends of those who have mental health issues. You need to know how to best support your loved one, and just as importantly you need to know how to get support for yourself.

I have written this post to give you an insight into depression. Of course, there are many other types of mental illness but as I have experience with depression, I will focus on that today. I would like to share with you some tips of how best to care for them and yourself, especially as the sufferer may not be able explain how they are feeling or what they need. I hope that you’ll find lots of useful tips.


Depression can affect anyone of any age, background or sex. It doesn’t matter if someone has a seemingly perfect life, mental illness can still attack and consume their mind.

It is much more than feeling a bit low or down in the dumps. It leaves the sufferer feeling useless, worthless and unloveable. They can see no end to the pain and feel full of despair. They may feel that you would all be better off without them.

They may be feeling anxious and suffering panic attacks too.

As much as they would love to “pull themselves together” and be happy again, it just doesn’t work like that. All the mental anguish and energy has left their mind and body exhausted. Their tiredness is like nothing you can imagine.

girl with long blonde hair watching a sun set for a-z top tips for health and wellbeing


Being a carer or a friend to someone with mental illness might just be the toughest thing you ever have to do. It will push out a range of emotions that you might not feel comfortable admitting.

Whether you are a parent, sibling, friend or partner it is hard watching the person you love change in front of your eyes. It is likely that you’ll feel unable to help them and have to deal with a total change in your relationship. It is never going to be easy, but it will be so worth it when you get that person back.

You will witness a whole new range of behaviour from them. The depressed or anxious person might become really needy or push you away mentally and physically. They might be verbally abusive or not talk at all.

They might not want to go anywhere or do anything that you previously enjoyed doing together. They might not wash, dress or eat. They will suffer irrational thoughts and solutions, but to them, it will seem very real.

None of this is personal, they are just totally incapable of controlling their actions and thoughts, and will have no energy or desire. There is no joy left in anything.

As bleak as it may sometimes seem there are plenty of things you can do to help:


* Push for medical help for them and go with them to appointments.

* If it’s at a new venue, plan how you will get there, as that will remove one aspect of their stress – it can be nerve wracking going to see a professional about mental health so they will probably become very anxious.

* If they want you to go in to the appointment, you may be able to answer questions that they cannot, and you will remember what the doctor has said. You may find they want to talk about what happened during that appointment again and again to clarify things.

* Learn as much as you can about mental illness so that you can reassure them (and yourself) that they will get better and that all the thoughts and symptoms are due to illness.

* Listen to them even though you might not agree with what they are saying.

* Think before you speak and bite your tongue. Do not express your anger or exasperation. Let them know you will always be there for them. One wrong word really will be enough to push someone over the edge.

* Make them tiny meals and snacks, especially childhood foods – see My Mental  Health Diet.

* Help to bath and dress them if need be.

* Calmly offer solutions to irrational thoughts.

* As a friend, keep in regular contact with them even if your friendship becomes one-sided for a while. Just a simple message or voicemail saying “hi, thinking of you today” or sending a funny photo will help.

* Reaching out will be hard for them to do so let them know you’re always there to listen. One day they might choose to open up.

* And of course give the simplest thing of all, a hug. Sometimes that’s all that is needed.

Depression can be just as draining on a carer as it is a sufferer so you must also find some support and take care of yourself.


* Get some support from people who understand what YOU are going through too such as a counsellor, support groups, friends.

* Don’t beat yourself up if you feel resentful or angry. I have seen the illness from both sides and even though I understand the illness I still got frustrated with my mum.  I was so cross that she didn’t fight it more. Why didn’t she push herself to go out and do things? Of course, I knew that she couldn’t, but I just wanted her to be well and happy again.

* Don’t lose hope when they show signs of recovery then slip right back. It is the nature of the illness, they will take one step forward, then two back. But in time the forward steps get bigger and last longer.

* Allow yourself time away to do something for you, keep going to the gym or an occasional night out.

Good luck and thank you for caring. I’m sure my recovery from that first bout wouldn’t have been possible without such strong support from my husband, my family, and my dog! Yes, pets really do have a strong place in recovery.

Do you care for someone with depression or anxiety?
Does you have any more tips to share for carers or friends?

4 thoughts on “12. Help & Support For Carers & Friends of Mental Illness Sufferers

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