- Don't push them to open up about their illness - it's taken me many years to be comfortable to openly talk about my anxiety (and Dyspraxia!) and there was a time where I didn't want to mention or even acknowledge to anyone that I had anxiety. It's only really been since leaving high school that I have opened up about it. When the person reaches a comfortable point with their illness then they will be ready to talk, some people never reach that stage others reach it early on their diagnosis others it take years it all depends on the person.
- Don't treat them like they will break or try to shelter them from their triggers - treat them like a normal person and if you know their triggers let them decide if they are ready to face them. For me any new environments or situations can be hard for me but if I never faced them then I would live my life in a bubble and I don't want that.
- Don't ask them if they've taken their medication especially when they are having a bad day - there are times when no amount of medication will work on a bad day and for you to ask them that means that you have picked up on it and it will cause them to be self conscious of it. Since starting medication for anxiety I have maybe forgotten to take it 2-3 times (this it out of 9 years of being on it). I am an adult and I know when to take it and the chances are if I miss a dose I will realise pretty quickly (I have a few signs that pop up) and sort it out without anyone realising that I missed a dose.
- Don't confuse the mental illnesses - please don't do this! With many mental illnesses many people have multiple characteristics of them but will be diagnosed with a main one. For example some people might have anxiety but have OCD and depressive characteristics linked in with it (and vice versa). It you know the main one that they have then address that one if not just say mental illness but please don't confuse them! Its like confusing a broken arm with a broken leg similar injuries but different parts of the body.
- Don't makes jokes of mental illness - whether you know someone who has experienced a mental illness or not its never to jokingly tell someone to kill themselves or jump of a cliff or tell them that they are so OCD if they are straightening out their pencils. Mental illness is a serious issue and its upsetting that people still think its ok to joke about it, just don't joke about and if someone you know makes those jokes tell them not to.
- Don't google their medication - if you are at their house don't google what they are taking or even ask what they are taking if they are on medication, its just plain rude! If they offer up the information then feel free to ask questions but please don't google it!
- Do ask them if they are ok and really mean it - whether its via text, over the phone or in person sometimes a person just needs to know that people care about them.
- Do give them distractions - take them out for coffee, go see a movie with them, go shopping anything that will take their mind of things can be good. Recently I was going through a tough time (mainly with anticipation anxiety) and a friend asked if she could come over, bring lunch and watch chick flicks. It was a welcome distraction and meant so much to me to know she cared.
- Do read up on ways you can be supportive - ReachOut has a whole section dedicated to how you can help your friends going through tough times.
- Do talk openly about your own struggles if you think they could be of help - since being more open about my anxiety I have had many friends come forward with their own struggles and its helped me feel not so alone.
- Do ask how you can help them during the tough times - its one thing to just assume what you can do to help but its great if you ask and take note of what you can do. For me it all depends on how I feel at the moment and its super hard to predict what kind of support I will need! Sometimes I just need space (so I can read a book or just zone out with a tv show), other times I need someone to listen and talk over things with and other times I need a full out distraction. If you are unsure what type of support they need just ask and respect their answer (don't try and think you know what's best for them or make assumptions).
- Do stick with them during the tough times - I am terrified that my friends will decide to abandon our friendship when times get really tough. This is part of the reason I refuse to get into a relationship until I am settled into a (God willing secure) job because I don't think its fair for a guy to stand by me during the first couple of weeks of a new job which are hell for me. Just stick by them and let them know that you aren't going anywhere no matter what they say.
It may be hard to support someone going through a mental illness but the realise that even the smallest things can mean a lot to them and don't be afraid to ask questions and find out what you can do to support them.