Help a Friend or Yourself through a Mental Health Challenge

May 5, 2021, 9:48 am | Demi Johnson, Donna Mills

Women supporting each other by, Iowa – May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If a friend, neighbor or community member were experiencing mental health issues, would you be able to intervene so they could get help? If you needed help, would you know where to turn?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experiences mental illness each year. Demi Johnson, behavioral health program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, says there are warning signs you may notice in yourself or others that indicate a need to seek help. Those signs include a drastic change in mood, behavior or personality; an increase in substance use; or ongoing difficulty in sleeping. Moreover, someone may be overwhelmed with intense worries or concerns that get in the way of daily activities.

“If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these signs of mental health challenges, there are several ways to help,” Johnson said.

Incorporating self-care into daily routines is a great way to reduce the risk and symptoms of mental illness, and it’s best to do it before experiencing a mental health challenge. Consistent sleeping habits, healthy food choices and regular exercise are well-known, healthy maintenance strategies. Furthermore, activities such as journaling, reading, meditating or listening to music can help improve mental well-being, Johnson explained.

“When there are noticeable changes in our friends and family that could be signs of a mental health condition, it’s best to approach the person in a private setting and ask questions that allow that person to talk openly for as long as needed,” said Donna Mills, Sioux County PROSPER Team leader with ISU Extension and Outreach.

Mills suggested saying something like “I’ve noticed that you have been quieter in the past two weeks. I really want to help. What can I do to help you right now?”  

“Sometimes talking with someone who cares is the only help the person needs. Sometimes a person may need to be referred to an appropriate professional for help,” Mills said.

When reaching out to provide resources to your friends, neighbors and community, there are a few key things to keep in mind for yourself and for others:

  • Stay close to your support network.
  • Engage socially with family, friends, teammates and your faith community.
  • Be realistic and mindful about your own needs and know your limits.
  • In case of an emergency, such as a suicide crisis, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

ISU Extension and Outreach is offering statewide programs to help individuals practice noticing and helping during a mental health challenge. Community members can join a Mental Health First Aid course for a training on identifying, engaging and responding to mental health challenges. To register, go to Additionally, Iowans are encouraged to participate in Question. Persuade. Refer. to learn how to respond and refer a friend in a mental health crisis to appropriate help. To learn more or register for an upcoming Question. Persuade. Refer. class go to Private programs are available to groups of 10 or more who would like to host a mental health education program. Contact Demi Johnson at or 515-344-4907 to ask about a private mental health education program.

More Resources

Iowa Concern, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, visit the website,, to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues.

COVID Recovery Iowa offers a variety of services to anyone affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual counselors and consultants provide counseling, family finance consultation, farm financial consultation, referral information and help finding resources for any Iowan seeking personal support. Iowans of all ages may join groups online for activities and learn creative strategies for coping with the effects of the pandemic. COVID Recovery Iowa will announce upcoming programs on the website and via all social media to help Iowans build coping skills, resilience and emotional support. To request support, go to

National Alliance on Mental Illness inspires to better the lives for central Iowans affected by mental illness. NAMI works to achieve this goal through support programs, educational outreach, and advocacy on local, state and national levels. Learn more at


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