How can you help someone with a mental illness?

January 27, 2020

Bell Let’s Talk Day has been facilitating valuable conversations around mental health in Canada for the last 10 years, creating an environment where the discussion of mental health is championed. Over the last decade, the campaign has raised millions of dollars to support mental health organizations that help Canadians living with mental illness. Approximately 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.

While showing support for the campaign via social media or donation is a positive, speaking with your friends and family about mental health is the overarching aim of Bell Let’s Talk. For many people, the topic can seem intimidating. By following some simple tips, candid and important mental health conversations can happen all year round.

Know the signs

Woman%20consoling%20her%20sad%20friendThere are many kinds of mental illness, and symptoms can look different for each individual. Here To Help BC has a wide range of fact sheets for illnesses such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and more. Information can help you when the time to talk comes.

Choose your words carefully

You want to help, not judge. Using such words as “psycho” or “schizo” can perpetuate negative stereotypes about people with mental illness. By being mindful of your language, you can help improve the dialogue around mental health.

Follow their lead

When checking on someone about their mental health, try to keep your questions open-ended, don’t force the conversation if they’re not ready, and meet people where they are. Everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to discussing mental health, so keep that in mind as the conversation unfolds.

Inform yourself

If you know which mental illness your loved one is living with, researching will help you feel equipped to talk about it. It will also be beneficial if you have to discuss things with their physician, such as medication. As well, many local mental health organizations have support groups, which can help you find others having similar experiences.


There are times when all someone wants is a sympathetic ear. Mental health stigma can take its toll, so simply being receptive to hearing about a loved one’s concerns can make a real difference. A cup of coffee or a long walk can go a long way.

Offer a hand with planning

One of the most useful things you can do for someone who is struggling, is ask them if they need help with planning. Whether it is making a doctor’s appointment for them , attending it with them as support, or making and freezing some meals, these small gestures mean a lot. 

Look after yourself, too

It’s important not to lose sight of your own wellbeing when helping someone with a mental illness. It can often be stressful and anxiety-inducing, so seeking out support for yourself should not be neglected. Your employee assistance program may include counselling or other supports, and your family doctor can offer sound advice. 

Crisis Care 

There may be times when an individual with a mental illness might need crisis or emergency care that you cannot provide. A full list of resources can be found on HealthLink BC

Useful tools: – developed by Doctors of BC, this website acts as a portal to an abundance of tools and resources developed by a range of mental health organizations in BC and across Canada.

Reaching Out: Supporting Youth Mental Health in British Columbia – this policy paper contains a number of commitments and recommendations which support Doctors of BC’s policy of raising awareness of mental illness in the province.

Mental Health Commission of Canada – The MHCC has a wide range of tools aimed at improving the mental well-being of all people living in Canada.

HereToHelp BC – A project of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information, HereToHelp provides information about mental health and substance abuse. 
Canadian Mental Health Association – The CMHA British Columbia Division has a number of resources, including information on youth mental health, university workshop information, and crisis care support.

Canadian Mental Health Association – The CMHA British Columbia Division has a number of resources, including information on youth mental health, university workshop information, and crisis care support.