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10 Things To Remember

Communication is a two-way street. It involves a sender (the person speaking), a receiver (the person listening) and the message (what you’re trying to say). When communicating with our loved ones who have a mental illness, it’s imperative that we show empathy and understanding to their needs.

Communication is key in interacting with someone with a mental illness and if we demonstrate a lack of empathy, then we risk isolating them or hurting their feelings. To ensure this doesn’t happen, we have put together the following 10 tips that will be a start for you to improve communications with your loved one.

1. Use short, clear direct sentences

Long, involved explanations are difficult for people with mental illness to handle. If it goes on too long, they will tune you out.

2. Set boundaries

Set limits with the person, as you would with anybody. “I only have five minutes to talk to you”, or “If you scream, I will not be able to talk to you”.

3. Keep it simple

Cover only one topic at a time. One direction at a time. Simplicity is key.

4. Know when to back off

If the person is becoming agitated, it’s best to back off. Arguing that you’re right just makes it harder for the person to remove themselves from the conversation with dignity. It’s also a good idea to back off if the person appears withdrawn and uncommunicative. You’ll have a better chance of communicating with them when they’re calmer.

5. Use “I” statements

Start the sentence with “I” eg ‘I feel upset when you scream” instead of “You upset me when you scream”.

6. Keep the stimulation level as low as possible

A loud voice, an insistent manner, making accusations and criticisms are painfully defeating for anyone, especially so for those who have suffered a mental breakdown.

7. Move away from distractions

Ensure that you’re away from distractions such as noise or onlookers.

8. Be patient

Assume that a good deal of everything you say to the ill person will fall through the cracks. You will often have to repeat instructions and directions. Patience is your friend.

9. Be respectful

When someone feels respected and heard, they are more likely to return the sentiment and also more likely to hear what is being said. Being respectful of their physical space is also important especially for people with paranoia. So be aware that people may need more body space than you.

10. Don’t assume

Mental illness has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence level, so don’t assume that it does by lying to them. Doing this will break any rapport that you want to establish.


Are there any others we could add to this list? Please share with us here.

If you have any questions about this article or need someone to talk to, you can call Arafmi any time of the day on 07 3254 1881. It’s comforting to know that when you need to talk – someone who understands will be there – at any hour.

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Arafmi would like to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s First People and Traditional Custodians. We value their cultures, identities, and continuing connection to country, waters, kin and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and are committed to making a positive contribution to the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

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