￼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, significant other, ￼neighbor, or colleague, there are many ways to support somebody you care about.
1 in 6 people experienced a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression in the past week.
Talking about mental health
If you are worried about someone it can be difficult to know what to do. When you are aware there is an issue, it is important not to wait. One of the saddest components of depression is that it is immobilizing. You can simultaneously know that you desperately need help, and have absolutely no energy or desire to seek it.
￼Waiting and hoping others will come to you for help might lose valuable time in getting them support. Openly talking with someone is often the first step to take when you know they are going through a hard time. This way you can find out what is troubling them and what you can do to help.
Eight tips for talking about mental health:
- Set time aside with no distractions. It is important to provide an open and non-judgemental space.
- Let them share as much or as little as they want to. Let them lead the discussion at their own pace. Don’t put pressure on 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Talk about wellbeing. Exercise, having a healthy diet and taking a break can help protect mental health and sustain wellbeing. Talk about ways of de-stressing and ask if they find anything helpful.
- 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.
- Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this.
- Know your limits. If you believe they are in immediate danger or they have incurred injuries that need medical attention, you need to take action to make sure they are safe. More details on dealing in a crisis can be found below.
How do I respond in a crisis?
People with mental health problems sometimes experience a crisis, such as breaking down in tears, having a panic attack, feeling suicidal, or experiencing a different sense of reality (dissociation). This may include even losing a sense of time and place. ￼You may feel a sense of crisis too, in response, but it’s important to stay calm yourself.
There are some general strategies that you can use to help:
- Listen without making judgements and concentrate on their needs in that moment.
- Ask them what would help them.
- Reassure and help point them to practical information or resources.
- Avoid confrontation.
- Ask if there is someone they would like you to contact.
- Encourage them to seek appropriate professional help.
- If they have hurt themselves, make sure they get the first aid they need.
Seeing, hearing or believing things that no-one else does can be the symptom of a mental health problem. It can be frightening and upsetting. Gently remind the person who you are and why you are there. Under extreme stress, people can dissociate. ￼Don’t reinforce or dismiss their experiences, but acknowledge how the symptoms are making them feel.
How do I respond if someone is suicidal?
If someone tells you they are feeling suicidal or can’t go on, or if you suspect they are thinking of taking their own life, it is very important to encourage them to get help.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
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