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You Can’t Fix Someone Else’s Mental Illness

June 28, 2023 Rachel Craft

Have you tried to fix someone's mental illness? When we see others struggling with mental illness, we often get the urge to help. But for most of us, we aren’t equipped to treat their disease—and trying to can negatively impact our mental health. Sometimes we have to let go and accept that we can’t fix someone else’s mental illness.

Don’t Try to Fix Someone's Mental Illness

Many years ago, while recovering from an eating disorder, I became friends with someone clearly exhibiting symptoms of disordered eating. At first, I tried to help her by sharing my experiences, but I soon realized she wasn’t in a mindset where she wanted to get better. And her behavior started to trigger me. 

I made the difficult decision to distance myself from this person for my own mental health. At the time, I felt guilty for not doing more to help her. But now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve realized I did the right thing. I was not—and still am not—equipped to treat her disease. I couldn't fix her mental illness, and if I hadn’t stepped back, my own mental health would have deteriorated, which would not have helped either of us.

It’s human nature to want to help others, especially when we see them dealing with the same struggles we face. However, always bear in mind that (unless you’re a licensed mental health professional) you’re not equipped to treat someone else’s mental illness. You may be able to help them learn to cope, but you may not—and that’s okay. 

Someone's Mental Illness Can Affect Your Own

It isn’t your job to “fix” anyone else, and it isn’t a reflection on you if you can’t help them. Instead of trying to fix someone’s mental illness, aim to support them and encourage them to seek help.

I had a friend in college who showed symptoms of depression. I had just gotten through a bad bout of depression with the help of therapy, so I sympathized with him. When he shared his feelings with me, I was happy to listen—but I reminded him that I wasn’t a therapist and encouraged him to seek professional help. He had no interest in going to our school’s free counseling center, and his behavior was beginning to trigger my depression. Eventually, I had to end our friendship for the sake of my mental health.

Was I wrong to distance myself from a friend who was struggling? I certainly felt guilty at the time. But my friend’s condition wasn’t improving, and my mental health was deteriorating in the process. I realized that if we continued, I would only end up in the same boat as my friend—and I would be in no position to help him.

Although our society prioritizes selflessness, we shouldn’t forego our own needs for the sake of others. Sometimes we have to put our mental health first and not try to fix someone's mental illness.

Watch this video for information on professional mental health services you can suggest to encourage others to seek help.

APA Reference
Craft, R. (2023, June 28). You Can’t Fix Someone Else’s Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/copingwithdepression/2023/6/you-cant-fix-someone-elses-mental-illness



Author: Rachel Craft

Find Rachel on Twitter and her personal blog.

Melanie O'Brien
October, 16 2023 at 8:53 pm

This post is so true. My son suffers from anxiety and depression and it breaks my heart to watch. I am a counsellor but also his mum and trying to be both just didn't work. Plus it is so true that someone else's mental health issues can start to affect your own. I now have found a happy medium where I am there for support, but I also make sure not to neglect my own mental health by going for a walk every day amongst nature. A great post. Thank you.

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