What To Do If Your Friend Needs Mental Health Help

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What To Do If Your Friend Needs Mental Health Help

Know the signs, act accordingly.

Published November 23, 2016

Nearly 7 million Black Americans struggle with mental illness. Do you suspect that someone you love might be one of them? Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting her help.

  1. Do some research.

    The symptoms of mental illness are as varied as the people who fight it. Read up on disorders here and see how your friend’s behavior stacks up.

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  2. Pick a good time.

    Don’t do it at a family gathering or during a fight. Talk to your friend one-on-one, in person, preferably during a time when you can both focus on the conversation.

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  3. Say: “I love you.”

    Start the conversation by letting your friend know that he/she is not alone and that you are there to help.

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  4. Say: “I’m worried about you.”

    Expressing your concern makes it clear that you want to help and is often enough to break the silence.

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  5. Ask: “Are you comfortable talking to me?”

    If your friend isn’t, ask if you can help start a convo with a parent, mentor or mental health care provider.

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  6. Ask: “How are you feeling?”

    Don’t make assumptions or put words in your friend's mouth. Ask point blank how he/she is feeling at this moment.

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  7. Listen.

    Make it a safe space for your friend to share. Don’t interrupt.

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  8. Be open minded.

    Being judgment and saying any sentences that start with, “I told you so…” are no-nos. You don’t want your friend to shut down before you can assess the situation.

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  9. Share.

    If you have struggled with mental illness, sharing your testimony could help others gather strength. But do not compare or contrast your situations—that could backfire.

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  10. Ask: “Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself or anyone else?”

    Using the word “suicidal” could be too much, too fast. This is a good place to start.

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  11. Say: “I want to get you some help.”

    And mean it.

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  12. Stress the importance of care.

    If he/she refuses help, connect mental health to physical health. Taking care of one's emotional well being is just as key to living the best, healthiest life.

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  13. Make a call.

    Use what your friend has divulged as a guide for the type of care they need. If he/she is suicidal, she needs emergency care. But don’t call 911 if you can help it: the highly publicized deaths of people of color killed during mental helath crisis makes that a scary move. Instead, call your local crisis intervention team. If there isn’t one, tell the dispatcher that your friend is experiencing a mental health crisis and ask for personnel who are trained for these situations.

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  14. Do the work.

    If it’s not an emergency, commit to immediately doing the legwork of finding a therapist, which can seem like an insurmountable task to someone who is already overwhelmed.

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  15. Be a shadow.

    Offer to go on appointments, hold hands with your friend in the ER—whatever it takes to see them through treatment.

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Written by BET Staff

(Photo: Sara Press/Getty Images)


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