1. Change. The best medication, the best programs, the best therapy and the best doctors in the world mean absolutely nothing if the person who is sick does not want to change. This change needs to come from within the person and not the result of wanting to please others around him or her. I have seen to many people whose treatment has failed just due to the wrong mindset. "I want to change for my kids sake" sounds great on the surface but "I want to change so I am in a better position to help my kids" is the answer you want to hear.
2. Learned helplessness. Time and time again I see loved ones who are literally trying to extract the illness from the person by taking care of every single aspect of the persons life. This is not only helpful to the person who is ill but this tends to drop a significant stress load on the person trying to help. I understand that you want to help but you need to draw a line in the sand for both of your sakes. If a person knows that whatever they do someone is going to be there to pick up the pieces how hard are they going to fight for themselves.
3. As a male I have a tough time talking about any aspect of mental health with the people in my life and when someone with good intentions tries to draw my problems out I tend to withdraw even further. I don't need someone to hold my hand but just knowing when I do need to let things out someone is there to hear it. Don't push just tell the person when he or she is ready you will be there.
4. I am well aware of the fact that currently I am disabled by mental illness but I do not need to be reminded that I am sick. Most of the day I spend in my head fighting monsters and one of the best things that you can do is help me focus on a world that is a better place then the one I am currently living in. Remind me what I am fighting for and do not focus on my illness.
5. Patience and lots of it. Mental illness is not like the flu or a broken bone as there is no set time period when the person is better. For some the battle may be short but for others it may cover a long time span. It is important that you pace yourself and do not burn the candle at both ends. A lot of my friends initially were very supportive upfront but once my illness reached the six months point the majority of them had disappeared. There are days when I am the guy next door and there are days when I should be locked up on the psych ward this is just the way mental illness works. As long as I want to change and keep fighting to get to a better place then eventually this battle will be over but it is going to take some time.
6. Warning signs. Please do not ignore them. If the persons behavior suddenly switches to the point where they appear to be a danger to themselves or someone else then it is essential that you act. Every tragedy that shows up in the papers and on the TV always have people talking about signs that could have prevented it. The law is there for a reason and that is to keep the mentally ill person safe and to protect society at large. Yes the person is not going to be happy with you upfront but I have seen a lot of people who will eventually admit that the emergency psych admission was the reason for them to not only turn the corner to recovery but may have saved their lives. My approach has always been it is better to over react then not react at all as I just will not take that chance.
Mental illness is a terrible thing that takes its toll on the people living with and for those trying to help. Remember this is a marathon and not a sprint plus the best thing someone can do is reassure the person that they are not fighting this battle alone and being there when the person reaches out. Take care