Together We Rise: Building a Support System for Mental Illness

Just like that challenging hike, the journey through mental illness can feel overwhelming and isolating. But the good news is, you don’t have to go it alone. Building a strong support system is one of the most powerful tools you have for managing mental illness and improving your overall well-being.

That’s the power of a Support System for someone facing mental illness. It’s a network of people who understand, care, and offer various kinds of support, making the journey towards mental well-being a little easier.

Why is a Support System Important?

Mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder can feel incredibly isolating. Symptoms can make it difficult to connect with others, leading to feelings of loneliness and despair. A strong Support System can combat these feelings by providing:

Understanding and Empathy: 

People in your Support System “get it” – they understand the challenges you face and the effort it takes to manage your illness. This can be incredibly validating.

Emotional Support: 

When you’re feeling down, your Support System is there to listen without judgment. They can offer words of encouragement, celebrate your victories, and be a shoulder to cry on during tough times.

Practical Help: 

Sometimes, mental illness can make daily tasks difficult. Your Support System can help with errands, chores, or even attending appointments. This can significantly reduce stress and allow you to focus on your well-being.


A Support System can gently remind you to take your medication, practice healthy habits, or attend therapy sessions. This accountability can be crucial for staying on track with your treatment plan.

Building Your Support System: Brick by Brick

Creating a Support System takes time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it. Here are some steps to get you started:

Identify Potential Members:

Look for people who are:

  • Trustworthy: This is the cornerstone of any strong relationship. You need to feel safe confiding in these people, knowing they won’t judge or gossip about your struggles.
  • Empathetic: They can put themselves in your shoes and understand your challenges without dismissing your feelings.
  • Supportive: These are your cheerleaders, encouraging you and believing in your ability to manage your mental illness.
  • Reliable: You can count on them to be there for you when you need them most, whether it’s a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or practical help.

Potential Members:

Family and Friends: 

Often the first people we turn to for support, your loved ones can be a fantastic source of strength. Talk to close family members or friends who have always been there for you. Express your need for support and explain how they can best help you.

Significant Other: 

A supportive partner can be a pillar of strength in your Support System. They can offer emotional support, companionship, and practical help with daily tasks.


Think of your therapist as a coach and confidante. They can offer valuable guidance on managing your mental illness, suggest coping mechanisms, and help you build communication skills to strengthen your relationships with others. Therapists can also recommend resources to help you make a broader Support System.

Colleagues (with Caution): 

While colleagues can be a great source of support, proceed with caution. It’s important to maintain professional boundaries. Consider confiding in colleagues who you trust and who demonstrate the qualities mentioned above.

Former classmates or teammates: 

Reconnecting with old friends who understand your personality and interests can be a source of encouragement.

Mentors or role models: 

Look for individuals who inspire you and have experience overcoming challenges. They can offer advice and support based on their own experiences.

Expanding Your Circle:

Sometimes, you might need more than your existing circle. Here are some additional options to consider:

  • Support Groups: Connecting with others facing similar challenges can be incredibly empowering. Look for online or in-person support groups specific to your mental illness. Consider joining groups focused on general mental health topics as well. Joining a support group allows you to share experiences, ask questions, and find encouragement from others who “get it.”
  • Mental health professionals: Social workers, counselors, and psychiatrists can offer support and guidance.
  • Volunteer groups or community organizations: Getting involved in a cause you care about allows you to connect with like-minded individuals while giving back to your community.
support system

Open Communication: Building Trust and Understanding

Open communication is the foundation of a Strong Support System. It allows members to understand your needs and offer the most effective support. However, talking about mental illness can be difficult. Here are some tips to navigate these conversations:

Start Small: 

You don’t have to reveal everything at once. Begin by confiding in someone you trust deeply, about a specific challenge you’re facing.

Use “I” Statements: 

This helps focus on your feelings and experiences rather than placing blame. For example, instead of saying, “You make me feel anxious,” try, “I feel anxious when…”

Explain Your Mental Illness: 

Briefly explain your diagnosis and the impact it has on your life. Tailor this explanation to the person’s level of understanding. Resources and websites can be helpful tools to share.

Focus on How They Can Help: 

Instead of simply venting, suggest ways they can support you. This could be anything from listening without judgment to offering practical help with chores.

Be Patient: 

Building trust takes time. Be patient with yourself and your support people as you navigate open communication.

Here are some conversation starters you can adapt to your specific needs:

  • “I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately. Would you mind lending an ear if I want to talk about it?”
  • “I’m struggling with [specific symptom] lately. Do you have any suggestions for coping mechanisms?”
  • “Sometimes I forget to take my medication. Would you be willing to gently remind me sometimes?”
  • “I’m working on managing my anxiety. Is there anything you can do to help reduce stressful situations around me?”

Setting Boundaries: Creating a Safe and Comfortable Space

While open communication is crucial, setting boundaries is equally important. Boundaries define what level of information and support you’re comfortable sharing with each member of your Support System.

Here’s how to establish healthy boundaries:

Identify Your Limits: 

Consider what feels comfortable for you in terms of disclosure and the level of support you can handle.

Be Direct and Clear: 

Don’t expect people to read your mind. Communicate your boundaries clearly and respectfully. For example, you could say, “I’m not comfortable discussing [specific topic] right now,” or “I appreciate your help with chores, but I need some time alone this weekend.”

Respect Others’ Boundaries: 

Just as you set boundaries, respect the boundaries of your support members. They may not be able to offer the level of support you need all the time.

Boundaries Can Evolve: 

Your needs and comfort levels may change over time. It’s okay to revisit and adjust your boundaries as needed.

Examples of Boundaries You Can Set:

Topics you’d prefer not to discuss: 

This could be anything from specific symptoms to past experiences.

The level of detail you’re comfortable sharing: 

You might choose to share a general overview of your mental illness or delve deeper into specific details.

Frequency of Communication: 

Decide how often you feel comfortable checking in with your support network.

Physical Contact: 

Be clear about your level of comfort with physical touch, like hugs or pats on the back.

Be Patient and Persistent

Building a strong Support System takes time and effort. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and your potential support members.

Maintaining Your Support System

Just like any relationship, a Support System needs nurturing. Here are some tips for keeping it strong:

  • Reciprocity is Key: While you’ll need support at times, also be there for your support network when they need you.
  • Express Gratitude: Thank your support people for their time and effort. Knowing they’re making a difference will motivate them to continue being there for you.
  • Communicate Regularly: Don’t wait until a crisis to reach out. Keep your support network updated on how you’re doing, both the good and the bad. This will strengthen your bond and allow them to offer targeted support when needed.

The Power of Different Roles Within a Support System

Not everyone in your Support System will play the same role. Here are some different types of support you might receive:

The Cheerleader: 

This person is your biggest fan, always offering encouragement and celebrating your victories, big or small.

The Listener: 

This person offers a non-judgmental ear and allows you to vent your frustrations without offering unsolicited advice.

The Problem-Solver: 

This person helps brainstorm solutions to challenges you’re facing or helps you navigate difficult situations.

The Practical Helper: 

This person offers tangible support with everyday tasks, like cooking meals, running errands, or accompanying you to appointments.

The Therapist: 

While not a replacement for professional help, a therapist can be a crucial member of your Support System by providing guidance, coping mechanisms, and a safe space to process your emotions.

Remember, you don’t need to find one person to fulfill all these roles. The beauty of a Support System is that it allows you to get different kinds of support from different people.

What if I Don’t Have a Strong Existing Network?

Mental illness is incredibly common. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health [1], 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year. Building a Support System allows you to connect with others who understand and can offer valuable support.

Taking the First Step: Resources to Help You Get Started

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about building a Support System, there are resources available to help. Here are a few:

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a variety of resources, including support groups, educational materials, and a helpline – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
  • The Jed Foundation provides mental health resources specifically for teens and young adults. The Jed Foundation
  • The Crisis Text Line offers emotional crisis support by text message. Text HOME to 741741. Crisis Text Line
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 for people in distress. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Self-Care: The Foundation of a Strong Support System

While a Support System is crucial, you are also an essential member of your own support team. Taking care of yourself is vital for managing your mental illness and building resilience. Here are some self-care practices to consider:

  • Prioritize Sleep: Getting enough quality sleep is essential for mental and physical health. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Eat a Healthy Diet: Nourish your body with nutritious foods to improve your mood and energy levels.
  • Exercise Regularly: Even moderate physical activity can significantly improve your mood and overall well-being.
  • Practice Relaxation Techniques: Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help manage stress and anxiety.
  • Engage in Activities You Enjoy: Make time for hobbies and activities that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment.

Building a Support System and taking care of yourself are powerful tools that can help you navigate the challenges of mental illness and lead a fulfilling life.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.