Mental illness does not only affect those who have it. It can also overwhelm the members of their entourage.

If you live with someone with a mental illness, you may experience different emotions, including anxiety, anger, shame and sadness. You may also feel helpless in regards to the situation. Everyone reacts differently. For instance:

  • Some parents may feel a sense of guilt for their child’s illness
  • Family members may wonder whether the illness is hereditary
  • People in the entourage may worry and wonder about their new responsibilities towards the person suffering

These reactions are perfectly normal. However, if you feel distress, do not wait for the situation to become critical in order to act. Find out right away what you can do, and what resources are available.

Advice for helping someone with a mental illness

Be informed

To feel confident and have a better understanding of the person's illness, you can do the following, for instance:

  • Read books, papers or articles on the matter
  • Watch shows about the subject
  • Attend conferences or training sessions
  • Attend support group for members of the entourage of someone with a mental illness

Develop a helpful approach towards the person suffering

Several approaches can help you establish or maintain a good relationship with the person, for example:

  • Show them that you can put yourself in their shoes and understand what they are going through. Avoid preaching to them and dictating what you would do in their place
  • Congratulate them on the positive changes they make, changes in attitude and behaviour, for instance
  • Be patient. Remember that sometimes, the road to recovery can be long and difficult.

Say what you think positively

When you want to say what you think to someone with a mental illness, let your personal feelings guide you in expressing your opinions and reactions. Use the first person rather than the second in speaking to them; it is the secret to good communication. In this way, the person is less likely to deny or be defensive. For example, you can say, “I am worried about how you are always locking yourself up in your room and that you barely eat. I am sad about what is happening.” This is more effective than, “You barely eat, and you are always in your room. What do you think is happening to you?”

Encourage the person suffering to seek professional help when necessary

Someone with mental illness can experience periods of instability on their way to getting better. When necessary, encourage them to see support groups or mental health organisations and associations for information, help and support.

If the person refuses, be patient and keep listening in order to understand their reasoning for refusal. Continue encouraging them. Offer to go with them as that could help in making up their mind.

However, you and other members of the entourage might notice the person has abnormal reactions and behaviours. This could be a sign it is necessary for the person to consult a doctor.

Here are a few examples of changes you could notice:

  • They increasingly isolate themselves in the bedroom or elsewhere
  • They have trouble sleeping or eating
  • They consume alcohol or take drugs
  • They have difficulty expressing themselves or concentrating
  • They appear far away (with an empty gaze)
  • They claim to be persecuted by a group of people but have no proof of it
  • They think you can read their mind, and they hear voices in their head

See the Help and Resources section for resources available to you.

Advice to help you live with a person suffering from mental illness

Living with a person suffering from mental illness is not always easy. Here is some advice to help you cope with such a situation:

Express your feelings

People around someone with a mental illness experience feelings such as anger, shame and guilt. These are normal reactions, which need to be expressed. Avoid building up resentment. Find people capable of listening with whom you can share your feelings without restraint or guilt. These could be good friends or a support group for close relations of people with mental illness.

Take care of yourself

Your physical and mental wellbeing is important. Being healthy helps you stay balanced and cope better with the person suffering from mental illness. Follow advice for maintaining good mental health.

Solve one problem at a time

Living with a person suffering from a mental illness can cause certain problems and interpersonal conflicts. If you are in such a situation, try to avoid solving all the problems you are experiencing at the same time. Instead, confront problems one at a time and find a simple solution for each. The more solutions you find, the more in control of the situation you will feel. There are always solutions. Trust in yourself.

Respect your limits and seek help when necessary

We all have personal limits. When you do not respect those limits, you risk adversely affecting your health, which is not helpful to the person suffering. Acknowledge your personal limits.

When necessary, seek information and support from aid resources, where you can also meet other people that are, or have been, in the same situation as you. Talking with these people can help you better understand your feelings and see what solutions others have had.

Go to Help and Resources to find the assistance available to you.

Help and resources

Information and support resources

Resources are available to families, friends and the entourage of people with mental illness. These resources offer assistance or further information on mental health:

To learn about assistance and support resources that can help someone with mental illness, go to the information page about the mental illness they suffer from. You can also read the Mental illness page.

Resources for care and services

Make sure you have permission from the person suffering from a mental illness before taking an appointment on their behalf with a doctor or health professional.

To receive care and services, or to find a psychotherapist, contact one of the following resources: