6 Ways You Can Help a Family Member or Friend in Recovery

Published 06/06/2016

A column sharing the expertise of FHR's diverse staff, comprised of over 600 employees across 8 states


During the months of May and June, we have the opportunity to celebrate relationships between parents and children on Mother's Day and Father's Day. What is one way to support a family member or someone close to you who is living with a mental illness or addiction?


1. Listen

"Just be there for them. Listen when they need to talk but do not counsel, you are not their therapist or doctor. It really is that simple." - Ashley R., Maine

2. Be Present

"Be present with the person and be empathetic. Give the person permission to express whatever they are feeling and thinking, even if it is difficult to hear. Keep an open mind and try not to just offer solutions or to fix things - sometimes that isn't helpful!" - Lindsay R., Pennsylvania

3. Empower

"A great way to support a family member or friend who struggles with mental illness, is to remind them of their strengths. They are likely to be focusing on what they lack- especially when everyone around them seems to be celebrating what appears to be success. Here are some positive thoughts you could share:
- 'You did the best you knew how at the time...'
- 'You sure have come a long way!'
- "Your sense of humor brightens someone's day."
- 'You are such a generous, kind-hearted person.'
- 'Forgive yourself; you are a beautiful soul.'
Different people will need different words of encouragement, but never underestimate the power of your healing words." - Penelope C., Massachusetts

4. Support

"One way to support a family member or someone close to you that is living with a mental illness or addiction is to recognize the illness/addiction by offering support rather than crisis." - Lela A., Massachusetts

5. Be Trustworthy 

"There are several ways to support someone you know and love that has a mental illness or addiction. First and foremost, do not joke or be sarcastic about whatever problem they are telling you about. It takes a lot of courage for someone to talk about their problems, so by you belittling them they may feel embarrassed and probably not seek further attention. Second, I would suggest to help them find someone who is qualified to help them (a therapist, a psychiatrist, etc.). Third, if they are taking medications I would send a friendly text reminder! Some people have hectic lives and it is not uncommon that missed medications affect the people who are taking or supposed to be taking them. It's always nice to have a friendly reminder. Lastly, don't constantly remind them that they have a mental illness/addiction - they know it. Just do fun things with them that don't include alcohol/drugs or that will make them uncomfortable. The most important thing is that they feel as though you are a friend and can be trusted." - Bethany J., Delaware

6. Encourage

"You can help by learning about the illness and offering hope and encouragement." Celina G., Massachusetts 

The information listed above are the thoughts of individuals and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of FHR. Some responses have been edited for length or clarity.