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Coming Out About Mental Illness

You've just been diagnosed with a mental illness. Now what? Here's how to tell the people you love.

Supporting Friends and Family With Mental Illness continued...

Avoid trying to be the hero or savior. Being empathic and understanding is one thing, but trying rescue someone is a completely different, says Lang. "You shouldn't try to fix them. This is something that is way beyond your capacity."

That doesn't mean you can't help. Experts agree that you can play an important role in the treatment of your friend or family member because you might notice things that a person in the grip of mental illness doesn't see or actively denies. This can be especially important for people who are not in treatment. Let's say your college roommate doesn't get out of bed, or you think he might be suicidal, and you're at a loss for what to do. Lang says you should tell him your concerns, but don't take responsibility for him. You can also enlist a parent or relative to help you.

If you are worried about someone who is in treatment, you can contact the mental health professional who is treating him or her, but the therapist can't share information with you and won't necessarily be able to keep your call confidential. "Any time you are a Good Samaritan you do run the risk of it backfiring and the patient feeling betrayed," says Lang. Most likely, however, they will ultimately understand that you were just trying to help them.

It's a difficult journey for everyone involved, but treatment -- and support from friends and family -- can go a long way to helping people recover, manage their conditions, and lead happy, healthy lives. "People with mental illnesses are heroines. We want people to see their family members with mental illness as the courageous people they are," Burland says.

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