“Kind words, kind looks, kind acts, and warm handshakes-these are means of grace when men in trouble are fighting unseen battles.” -John Hall

There is an international movement to encourage kindness, in thought and deed. For the most part, this has been a push to build relationships and communities, but there is an additional benefit. For those suffering from mental illness, this is one action which can truly do nothing but help, both the giver and the receiver.

First, it’s best to clarify something about mental health: it’s a continuum. All of us have it and many of us will suffer from some form of mental illness, even if only for a short period of time – for some it will be like getting a cold, for others like a bout of pneumonia, and others may have a more serious illness. It isn’t necessarily debilitating. Even people who suffer from serious mental illness still enjoy life, are still productive, and maintain relationships. However, for many, the light is dimmed by their feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear, and even anger. Acts of kindness offset those feelings, and help both parties – the giver and receiver of the kindness.

Helping someone in your life who is suffering from mental illness can be draining to the supporter. As with supporting something through any illness, it’s crucial to take care of yourself so you are not pouring from an empty pitcher. If you do not care for your own health, physical and mental, you certainly can’t help others.

Ways to Show Kindness to Those Experiencing Mental Illness

Be Available. It can be challenging to know what to say to a friend or family member going through a tough time or suffering from a diagnosed mental illness. But the bottom line is that he or she has not become a different person. Remember, although you may be uncomfortable with their illness, you don’t have to deal with it 24/7. They must live in their heads all the time. Just being there for them, listening when they need to talk—or when they don’t want to be alone—can make a significant difference in their life.

“One kind word can change someone’s entire day.” -Unknown

Take their Mind off their Illness. It’s likely your friend struggles to concentrate on things in their life other than their mental illness and they can really benefit from the opportunity to forget (at least temporarily) what they’re going through. Reach out to them for a visit; ask them to go out to eat or, if they are anxious about being in public, bring a meal to them. Play a board or card game. Watch a movie, TV series or sporting event with them. Remind them about the things they loved before they started experiencing their illness; this gives them a chance to step outside of their current state and remember happier times.

Learn about their Illness. One really special way to show someone you care about them is learning more about them. This applies to their hobbies and interests but is equally important (or even more valuable) for those suffering from mental illness. For those who haven’t sought professional help, your research can make their journey to healing quicker, and doing some of the legwork takes a weight off their shoulders. This also helps you understand what they’re experiencing, as well as reinforcing that their symptoms are real and not about you. You will both benefit from this.

Encourage them to Seek Help. Go beyond the typical level of support. Without pushing them, encourage them to seek help and answers outside of their comfort one. You can’t fix them and besides, there are experts who are ready to help. This not only validates their experience, but shows them that they’re not alone, that what they are experiencing has been felt by thousands of others. Offer to help them find help in various forms (therapist, support groups, online resources). Knowing someone they trust is with them may make that step easier.

“Ah, kindness. What a simple way to tell another struggling soul that there is love to be found in the world.” -A. A. Malee

Ways to Show Kindness to Yourself

Volunteer. There are few things more rewarding than giving of yourself to something you believe in. When you volunteer, you often see immediate results of your effort. Gratitude from others confirms that good feeling you’re already experiencing.

Treat Yourself. Whether it’s an indulgent food or drink, a nap, several hours to do nothing, a movie you want to see, or a long weekend trip, you deserve it. Our world has become driven by the desire to succeed, practically a competition for who can sacrifice themselves more. Refuse to be sucked into that. It’s perfectly acceptable to do something for yourself, to make yourself a priority.

Pick up a Relaxation Habit. From meditation to yoga, stretching to simply spending time in silence, develop a habit of relaxing. Removing stressful experiences cannot always be achieved in your day-to-day life, so a set period to reduce the effects is absolutely in order.

Small acts of kindness, both to others and to yourself, can improve not only your life, but those who benefit from your improved demeanor and positive attitude. We all know infectious a smile can be; think of how you can spread generosity and care with kind acts.

Photo by Sandrachileon Unsplash