How can I be supportive?

Ask the person if, and how, they would like you to support them. Reassure them that you are there to help, not to judge them, and that you are committed to respecting their wishes and preferences.

Also ask them if there are any current stressors that may be contributing to their symptoms, and whether they would like practical support, e.g. arranging childcare or assisting them with medical appointments. However, do not try to immediately provide the person with solutions. You should make it clear to the person what you are willing and able to do to support them.

If appropriate to the relationship, ask the person if it is okay to check in with them from time to time, and if it is, continue to reach out to the person, e.g. to let them know you are thinking about them and that you care. If you do have ongoing contact with the person, watch for signs that indicate they may be experiencing a worsening of their symptoms.

However, in these ongoing interactions do not overly focus on the person’s mental health problems.  Talking about the same things you otherwise would—whether sports, literature or politics—and doing the things you otherwise would—going out to the movies, hanging out at a coffee shop are in many cases the absolute best way to reassure someone that everything is ‘normal’ and will be okay. 

Treating them like a “patient” (asking a lot of questions about mental health that you would not have in the past) can be very alienating.  And finally, just because someone doesn’t respond, doesn’t mean they don’t value your efforts to reach out and stay in touch.

In their own words

“It always felt really, really invalidating to me when people would tell me or otherwise imply that what I was experiencing wasn’t real. Of course it was real to me—just like the fears, doubts, and other emotions that people normally feel.”

“Sometimes I actually found it helpful to ask friends or family—’are you hearing what I’m hearing’ or ‘did so-and-so just say that’—but only when I asked. Otherwise it just felt like judgement. “