Supporting Someone with a Mental Health Problem
May 9, 2023
We all go through tough times, and people help us through them. Other times we have been worried about other people’s mental health. Whether they are a friend, family member or colleague, there are many ways to support somebody you care about.
Sometimes it will seem obvious when someone is going through a hard time, but there is no simple way of knowing if they have a mental health problem. Sometimes you don’t need to know. It’s more important to respond sensitively to someone who seems troubled than to find out whether or not they have a diagnosis.
Although certain symptoms are common with specific mental health problems, no two people behave the same way when unwell. You may notice changes in their behaviour or mood if you know the person well.
The Mental Health Foundation gives these are their top tips to open up the conversation about mental health with your friend or loved one:
1. Set time aside with no distractions
It is important to provide an open and non-judgemental space with no distractions.
2. Let them share as much or as little as they want to
Let them lead the discussion at their own pace. Don’t pressure them to tell you anything they aren’t ready to talk about. Talking can take a lot of trust and courage. You might be the first person they have been able to talk to about this.
3. Don’t try to diagnose or second guess their feelings
You probably aren’t a medical expert, and while you may be happy to talk and offer support, you aren’t a trained counsellor. Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your own diagnosis or solutions.
4. Keep questions open ended
Say, “Why don’t you tell me how you are feeling?” rather than “I can see you are feeling very low”. Try to keep your language neutral. Give the person time to answer and try not to grill them with too many questions.
5. Talk about self-care
Discuss ways of de-stressing or practising self-care and ask if they find anything helpful. Exercising, having a healthy diet and getting a good night’s sleep can help protect mental health and sustain wellbeing.
6. Listen carefully to what they tell you
Repeat what they have said back to them to ensure you have understood it. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but by showing you understand how they feel, you are letting them know you respect their feelings.
7. Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this
You might want to offer to go to the GP with them or help them talk to a friend or family member. Try not to take control and allow them to make decisions.
8. Know your limits
You will have your own limits on the support that you can provide. And it’s important to take care of yourself too. Give yourself time to rest and process what they have told you or what’s happened. Try to help them create a support network of other friends, relatives and mental health professionals who can help them too.
Remember that If you believe they are in immediate danger or have injuries that need medical attention, you must take urgent action to ensure they are safe. More details on dealing in a crisis can be found below.
If it is a family member or close friend you are concerned about, they might not want to talk to you. Try not to take this personally: talking to someone you love can be difficult as they might be worried they are hurting you. It is important to keep being open and honest and telling them that you care. It may also be helpful to give them information about organisations or people they can reach out to.
You can find much more information here.