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How To Support Someone With

A Mental Illness?

Written by Dr Lim

10—FEB—2021 07:34 GMT
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ental health issues are common worldwide. In 2016, the Malaysian Ministry of Health estimated that 1 in every 3 Malaysians are facing mental health issues [1]. If you are reading this article, you may wish to learn how to help yourself and others facing these issues. Here are some general principles of what and what not to do when talking to our loved ones who face mental health problems: 

1. Be Kind

“Be kind” is an umbrella phrase that includes being sincere, empathetic, compassionate, respectful and non-judgmental. Essentially, you want to establish rapport and trust with the affected person. Don’t try to impose your opinions or thoughts onto your loved ones, they may not be receptive to such a forceful approach. Instead, be gentle and patient with the individual so that they are more receptive of your thoughtful suggestions.

It really is that simple, everyone can do this.
Image by Sincerely Media.

2. Be Fully Present

Be fully present. Listen attentively. Demonstrating important non-verbal cues will let your loved one know that you are listening and feeling understanding of their situation. For instance, a simple smile can be encouraging and comforting for them. Showing facial expressions and making eye contact can show that we are invested in the conversation. Head-nodding can be affirmative. Verbal cues and questions at the right moments, to elicit further information are also helpful.

3. Be Sensible

This can be difficult as it requires some prior knowledge of the individual's life experience. Certain remarks could be hurtful to different people. Avoid sharing too much of your personal opinion. Simply be there for them and listen. Bear in mind that certain facial expressions, such as frowning or gasping can startle the person and make them feel judged. 


Whatever it is, do not disregard their situation, remarks like “you are overthinking it”, “it’s all in your head” are not helpful and would invalidate the person’s feelings, making them feel ashamed to share more.

4. Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries ensures that you can support your loved one without compromising your own mental health. It does not mean that you do not care about that person. Knowing where your limits are and communicating with them can be beneficial to both parties. It ensures that you are not overwhelming yourself. Learn to ask for help from reliable resources and remember that you are not alone in helping your loved one and yourself. 

Taking care of your mental health is equally as important. 
Image shot by Héctor J. Rivas.

5. Ask For Professional Help

Mental health issues are genuine health issues. Just like other physical diseases, it requires professional input from a psychologist or psychiatrist. They can help you come to a diagnosis and offer relevant treatment plans. Besides that, joining support groups or getting more information from NGOs in your community are equally as important and could be beneficial.

6. Managing Difficult Situations

Managing difficult situations such as emotional outbursts, acute relapses or calming down symptomatic psychotic patients can be extremely challenging. Patients who are psychotic may appear severely deluded, suspicious, hostile or aggressive. This can be tricky to defuse. 


Try not to ignore them, while at the same time respect their boundaries and privacy. For example, slowing down your voice and body movements, and repeating affirming and non-threatening words can help. If the situation escalates beyond what you can handle, or there is risk of the person harming themselves or others, do not be afraid to ask for help. Calling the ambulance or police could be the next step if things get out of hand.

Additional Resources

1. Mental Health Malaysia: 

2. Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (MIASA):

3. National Alliance on Mental Illness:



1. Mental Health Problems in Malaysia. (2016). Retrieved 19 January 2021, from

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