Most people don't realize that there is a mental health problem happening to themselves until it's too late. Sometimes they never fully realize that they have mental health issues. It's up to others to help them and guide in the direction that they need to go. And that is no easy task.
So what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to go about it?
Everyone is different. There are no set steps in dealing with mental illness. Mental illnesses are adaptable, fluid, and always changing forms. This illness is designed to eat you from the inside out. It's a tricky little devil.
But there are some basic guidelines to follow that can help you help others.
1 - Listen intently. If they want to talk, listen. Don't try to offer solutions or try to fix problems. That can make it worse. And sometimes those problems don't have answers. Let that person vent, get it out of their system and put it out into the world. That alone can do more good than many realize.
2 - If you don't understand something, say so. Pretending or saying that you understand when you don't can just make the other person upset. No one should have to understand mental illness and what it can do to people in the first place. We all wish that mental illnesses were non-existent, just like we wish cancer wasn't a real thing. But saying you know how they feel can make things worse. Be compassionate, not sympathetic. There is a huge difference in a time of need.
3 - While you want to give them their space, don't leave them alone for too long. I don't mean in the physical sense. They don't need a baby-sitter. But you also can't leave them alone with their thoughts for too long. The wrong thoughts can be detrimental and have some horrible consequences. The key is finding that balance. It will take time to find it, but once you do, things can change quickly for the better (or at the very least not get worse).
4 - Make sure YOU have a support system. Helping someone through a mental illness can be just as exhausting and hard as dealing with one yourself. You have to make sure you have a stable support system to lean on when you need to. It doesn't have to be a whole group of people, but having at least one person on your side with help you help others. It can be a family member, a friend, or even your own therapist or other mental health professional. You can't do this on your own, just like they can't do it on their own.
5 - This last one if probably the hardest, but most important. It can be extremely painful for you and for the person you are trying to help. You can not be afraid to call for help. If someone starts threatening to take their own life, the life of another, or hurt themselves in any way, shape, or form, do NOT take it lightly. No matter what the situation. You can not wait in that situation. They are either serious or screaming for help. Do not wait for things to hit rock bottom before calling in for back-up. You don't know what will cause the the final breakdown, and you don't know who will take the full force of that break. Don't wait to find out. Call the hospital, call a crisis line, call someone who can get them to a safe place and the serious help they need. They may get mad at you for sending them somewhere they don't want to go, but if it keeps them safe and alive, it's worth the risk.
But wanting to help is the first step. You'll have to accept the fact that it's going to be hard, dirty, exhausting, but totally worth it when you come out the other side of that dark tunnel.
There is light at the other end though. For them and for you.