6 Ways to Help People with Mental Illnesses

Bipolar is one of the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric conditions among teens and twenty-somethings, but there has been little written about it, and few people know how to approach the topic. In her new book, Welcome to the Jungle: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bipolar but Were Too Freaked Out to Ask (Conari Press, May 2010), Hilary Smith fills in the gap with an upfront and empowering approach to the challenges of being diagnosed with bipolar. Here she shares with us six tips for making the world a better place for people with mental illnesses.

1. Meet a person with a mental illness.
The best way to learn about mental illness is from a person who lives with one. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a new program called In Our Own Voices in which people living with serious mental illnesses give presentations in their communities. These free presentations are a great way to learn about what day-to-day life with a mental illness is like, and presenters (who live with conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) are more than happy to answer questions from the audience.

2. Believe passionately in recovery.
The next time you’re walking down the street and you see a homeless person with schizophrenia, try to picture what his life would be like if he was getting adequate care for his symptoms. With proper treatment, the same man might be at home throwing a baseball with his young son, or growing prize tomatoes at his apartment. Severe mental illness does not have to equal homelessness, but until we learn to see people with severe mental illnesses as capable of recovery, their plight will all too often be seen as inevitable.

3. Support community organizations that help people with mental illnesses.
Give time or money to an organization in your community that provides outreach, shelter, job training, counseling, or healthcare services to people with mental illnesses. Mental illness affects millions of Americans every year. One day, the person most in need of these services might be a friend, relative, co-worker–or even you.

4. Support legislation that helps people with mental illnesses.
Campaign for healthcare reform banning health insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions. Vote yes on bills for affordable housing and increased funding for mental health programs. Support campaigns to keep people with mental illnesses out of prisons and receiving the treatment they need.

5. Teach your children about mental illness.
Children often absorb their parents’ attitudes towards people who are different. Explain to your children what it means when they see people with mental illnesses acting or speaking in unusual ways. Emphasize the need for compassion and tolerance, and always put the person first, not their disorder. Teach your children not to see a “crazy lady,” but a woman struggling with a disease.

6. Talk openly about your own experience with mental illness.
Even if you’ve never struggled with a serious disorder like bipolar or schizophrenia, you’ve probably had a friend or relative who has.

Hilary Smith, author of Welcome to the Jungle is a young writer and artist living on the West Coast. She studied English Literature at the University of British Columbia, where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after one too many insomniac bike rides in her junior year.


Val M.
Val M4 years ago


Laura R.
Laura R4 years ago

thanks. I just thought there were some practical advices on how to deal with these people if you meet them...
In my family there is someone who recently developed bipolar, and it's really hard to deal with this person... It's so sad...

Heather M
Heather Marvin5 years ago

A really good post showing tolerance and compassion.

Kenneth L.
Kenneth L5 years ago

"There is no epidemic of mental illness. There is an epidemic of Psychiatry" Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry
"The concept of depression has become so broad that all you need is five symptoms for two weeks" Dr. Patricia Casey, Professor of Psychiatry
“We can manufacture enough diagnostic labels of normal variability of mood and thought that we can continually supply medication to you…But when it comes to manufacturing disease, nobody does it like psychiatry.”-----Dr. Stefan Kruszewski, Psychiatrist
“The whole business of creating psychiatric categories of ‘disease,’ formalizing them with consensus, and subsequently ascribing diagnostic codes to them, which in turn leads to their use for insurance billing, is nothing but an extended racket furnishing psychiatry a pseudo-scientific aura. The perpetrators are, of course, feeding at the public trough.”
— Dr. Thomas Dorman, M.D

Nellie K A.
Nellie K Adaba5 years ago

I call it "mental problems" not "mental illness", because I've been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (mild form of autism, highly functional) at age 21. I'm now 31. I'm recovering and improving.

Janine K.
janine Kaczynski5 years ago

How about this. We TRAIN people to figure out what is going on by OBSERVATION in schools, the only place people HAVE to go for MOST of their DEVELOPING lives. We OBSERVE, let them write, be creative, LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN. Then we CARE about them and HELP them. How about that? It breaks my heart to see how it affects the OTHER PEOPLE surrounding them too.
I had a personal experience with a woman who is really not a peaceful person. She LIVES to ruin things for people and it is because she is truly mentally hurt herself. The irony is that she just recently used somebody (shall remain nameless) to hurt a woman who has a mentally or handicap-challenged person in her life. Bottom line? There are people who need to be protected from people who have bad intentions.

Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago


Dale Overall

Interesting and informative article. Many people with mental illness are faced with stigma throughout their lives be they suffering from bi polar, unipolar or other mental illnesses.
Is is frightening that many people cannot afford treatment in various countries-some end up in the prison system as they were untreated and committed various crimes.
Others end up homeless and have no way of affording treatment depending on where they live as some countries are more progressive with health care than others.
Yes in some cases living with a person with mental illness causes terrible stresses on other family members but remember that no one specifically asks to be born with such an illness any more than anyone asks to get cancer, heart disease or other illnesses--not everything is one hundred per cent preventative.

Janine Kaczynski
janine Kaczynski5 years ago

It's not so much the MI that hurts all but the lies. Can't move forward not knowing the truth.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.5 years ago

thanks for sharing