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What to Say to People Battling a Mental Health or Substance Use Disorder

Written by Arden O'Connor
Published on November 18, 2021

A friend called recently saying she had just found out her close friend had been sent to a residential treatment center by her husband. My friend was overwhelmed and had no idea her friend had been battling anxiety, depression, and apparently too much drink. She asked, what should I say to my friend considering what is happening?

Oftentimes, we are not sure how to respond to a loved one experiencing psychological distress. We want to offer comfort or a solution to what they are going through, but we just aren’t sure how to or even what to say. So, we refrain from saying anything for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Here’s a thoughtful, affirming approach of what to say to people with mental health or substance use disorders:

  • You have been made for so much more life and love than what your battles have taught you to expect for yourself.
  • You are loved and accepted just as you are, regardless of what you’ve done, are doing, or will do.
  • You can forgive yourself. Where you are able, you can make amends to the people you have wronged without causing further harm to them or yourself.
  • You can let go of what you cannot control or change. Tomorrow is a new day.
  • Welcome! I want you here in my life. You are stuck with me!
  • Tell me your story. Where is their pain in it? Where is a thread of redemption in it? Then, listen to their story.
  • You have an illness, a disease, a disorder, a very real struggle. I want you to find recovery and healing. I will walk with you and support you however I can—and not just on the good days.

When people go through difficult times, knowing they are not alone can make all the difference. Our loved ones often respond better when we listen without judgment. Understanding we cannot fix or cure them is essential. However, we can show up for them with love, acceptance, and support and connect them to the resources and providers to help them heal and recover. 

O’Connor Professional Group (OPG) offers a breadth of behavioral health services to address the needs of individuals and families living with addictions, eating disorders, mood and personality disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and other behavioral health conditions. Contact us today.

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