Many people have friends and families with mental illness or intellectual disability. They want to know how they can be there for them and how they can help them to live the best life possible. The trouble is, most of us do not know how to do this and end up feeling powerless over the situation. We know that it must feel very isolating to have this kind of disability but do not always know how to make our loved ones feel included. There are many ways in which to do this and once you master these, it becomes easier to help the person.

  1. Educate yourself about their disability and how to support them

No two people are the same, but there is an endless amount of research on the types of disabilities and how persons with disabilities can be supported. In order to ensure that you can support your loved one, you must have an understanding of what their challenges are, what their triggers are, and what causes them stress. You must learn how to communicate with them, how to help them stay active and how to treat them as equal. Learning takes away stigma- the belief that people like your loved ones can never fit in or that they are less worthy than non-disabled people- and you must rid yourself of these concepts if you want to support someone with these kinds of disabilities.

  1. Listen to the person

It is important to know what the person is thinking and how they are feeling. It is vital that the person has a chance to communicate what they think and feel. Everyone wants their voice to be heard and it is only in allowing a person the time and space they need to voice their opinion that this can become the case. Sometimes people with disabilities cannot speak or find it difficult to speak, but this does not mean that they should not have a voice. You need not always have to listen with your ears. Learn the cues and motions that people make when they are trying to tell you something and show them that you have taken note of their view. This may mean mastering a new art of communication on your part. But remember, it will all be worthwhile because it will have a positive effect on the person’s self-esteem and self-worth.

  1. Do not underestimate the person

For centuries, people with mental illness and intellectual disability have been pushed aside and dismissed. Because of this, these people often think that they are not capable of understanding or of taking part in activities that other people take for granted. It is important that you never assume that your loved one with a disability is incapable. In the right environment and if given the chance, people with mental illness and intellectual disability can accomplish great things. They can learn and they can grow and flourish if you let them. Let them take part as much as they can (but don’t force them) and you will be amazed!


  1. Do your best to make sure the person has what they need

Sometimes people with mental illness and intellectual disability might need special tools to function. Some might need additional time to give answers to questions or a quiet environment and some might need special devices to do the things they need to do. You might not always be in a position to provide this, but you should do your best wherever you can. Make sure that what they need is always on hand and that you help them find what they might need if it isn’t readily available. If you are having a conversation and the person needs a tool or an environment to help them complete or take part in an activity, do your utmost to make sure it is available to them. If you do not make the effort, the person may get frustrated and feel unhappy.


  1. Love them

Everyone wants to be loved and know that they are loved. Everyone wants to feel like they have the support of those around them. We all want to know that there are people who are looking out for us, who are trying the best they can to make our lives as happy as possible. Give this love to your friend or family member with a disability. People with all types of disabilities often encounter a lot of frustration and require extra support and care. Give this to your loved one. Make them feel as though they are important and worthy.


Supporting a person with a mental illness or intellectual disability can be difficult, but always know that it’s worth it. Your efforts may not be perfect, but they will appreciate it if you try the best you can. These 5 steps are not a list of everything that can possibly be done, but they’re steps in the right direction. Help your loved ones overcome their battles, they deserve it!

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