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Safe Space

The dos and don’ts of discussing mental illness

If a friend or family member told you that she was struggling with mental illness, would you know what to say? Here, Rebecca Woolis, a family therapist and the author of When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness, offers tips for being supportive.

DO your research. “Educate yourself about their condition and ask questions about their experience rather than assuming,” Woolis says.

DON’T tell others. “In nonurgent situations, respect their wishes regarding sharing information about their condition,” she says.

DO treat them with respect. “People are more than their illness,” Woolis says. “They deserve to be treated with kindness and compassion like everyone else.”

DON’T joke or tease them about it. “It can be painful, even if they laugh at it,” she says. “On the other hand, if they joke about it, it’s OK to laugh with them.”

DO show you care. Offer your support in whatever way you can. “Just being a person who will listen when they need to talk is huge,” Woolis says.

DON’T let myths go unchecked. “When we correct false information, we help combat the stigma of mental illness and make it easier for people to get the help they need,” she says. 


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