How can I help a friend who is showing signs of mental illness?

One of the most important ways to be a good friend is to help your friends when you notice something is wrong. This includes helping them get the support they need and deserve if they are experiencing a mental health condition. You may find it helpful to read NAMI’s How to Help a Friend infographic or visit the website for information about signs to look for and ways to start a conversation.   

If you are confident that your friend is not at immediate risk and that you can manage the situation, consider the following steps:   
•Create a safe space for them to talk about their feelings and actively listen. Some options to try might include, “You don’t seem like yourself. What’s going on?” or “I’ve noticed you [seem down, are sleeping more, etc.]. I’m here if you need to talk.” 
•It’s OK to ask questions, but most importantly, reassure them that you are here to support and help. Some options to try might include, “I am here with you” or “You’re not alone”. 
•Encourage them to talk to an expert. NAMI HelpLine can assist with resources for finding care. 
•Help them make a list of questions or concerns to share with an expert.  
•Offer to go with them to a first appointment; even just being there in the waiting room can help someone feel reassured.  

What Is a Crisis? 

Recognizing when someone you care about is experiencing a mental health crisis can be difficult. You may not be sure what constitutes a crisis situation versus a “bad day”. You may feel scared — perhaps you feel unsure of what to do next.  
Remember to trust your instincts. Even in this complicated situation, the certainties are that you care about your friend, and you will do whatever is needed to help them. 
A mental health crisis is when someone is at risk of harming themselves or others, or if their emotions and behavior seem extreme and out of control. 
Warning signs of mental health crisis may include: 
•Expressing  suicidal thoughts, either through explicit statements such as “I want to die” or more vague statements such as “I don’t want to be here anymore” 
•Making threats to harm others or themselves 
•Engaging in self-injurious behavior, such as cutting or burning 
•Expressing severe agitation and aggression, including physical aggression, destruction of property, hostility, etc. 
•Experiencing hallucinations or delusions 
•Isolating themselves from friends and family 
If you suspect that someone you care about is in crisis, please visit NAMI’s Knowledge Article "What can I do if my loved one has a mental health crisis" for more information.  

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