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Health & Spirit

How to best help a friend suffering from mental illness

Carolyn Hax on

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I have a friend who suffers from a mental illness. Medication does not seem to make a difference. My friend is a good person, but difficult.

I want to be a good friend, but sometimes I feel used. I need help figuring out where to draw the line. It's not their fault -- it's brain chemistry. But sometimes I wonder how much is under their control. I cannot give more than generalities, but can you help?

-- Friend

I can try.

 

Often when you're not sure where to draw lines, it can help not to look to the other person for answers -- does s/he do this on purpose, is it the illness talking, etc. -- because these are often unanswerable. What you can know is where your limits are. What situations with this person are OK? For how often, and for how long? What situations aggravate you?

Taking these as a whole and then developing a plan -- a very specific one, including frequency of contact, types of contact (text, phone, in person, in your home, in their home, at a neutral site), and length of contact at any given time, etc. -- is a way you can remain involved with this person's life but not get overwhelmed by it. You set your terms, hold your lines firmly, and then be fully present when you are with your friend.

You can also tweak the plan as needed, after you see how theory works in practice.

Dear Carolyn:

...continued

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