Seeing your loved ones struggling with their mental health can often leave you feeling helpless. Here are a few ways you can support them.
It starts by offering help
Stop worrying about how you might be able to help and ask!
Letting your loved one know they’ve got someone to talk to is a phenomenal help, and can lift a huge weight off their shoulders. They may not choose to open up to you immediately, but the impact of knowing that they’ve got a friendly and understanding face to talk to is the best place to start.
Don’t change how you act
It’s important to recognise that facing challenges with your mental health doesn’t change who you are.
If a loved one is struggling, don’t treat them any differently. Offer your help, of course, but don’t let their challenges change the way you act around them. They are still the same person. Talk to them as you normally would, laugh with them, enjoy their company and remind them that there is life outside of whatever challenges they’re facing.
Many mental health conditions, particularly anxiety, depression and related disorders, can cause people to isolate themselves from friends and families.
You may notice your friend or loved one declining more invitations to events they would usually enjoy, or taking less interest in their hobbies. Try to recognise that this is just one of the ways that their condition is impacting their daily life; don’t stop trying to include them. Keep reaching out and offer to spend time with them on their terms.
Patience is key
Caring for someone going through a tough time is rarely easy.
Recognise that you will not always know the full story, so there may be reasons your loved one hasn’t sought help that you don’t know about. Your loved one may not choose to open up to you immediately, which can be difficult.
Keep being patient and reassure them when they do open up. Recognise that talking about their worries is a big step, and that you are there to listen if they need to talk.
Take time for yourself
Being there for a friend or loved one when they are in distress is very upsetting and emotionally exhausting. Be kind to yourself and try to make the time to do something you enjoy.
Hearing someone you care about going through a challenging situation is not easy, so take the time you need to care for yourself. Recharging your batteries is a crucial part of being there for someone.
Listen without judgement
Listening is more than just sitting in silence while someone talks. Listening well is a learned skill.
Ask open questions to your loved one, and acknowledge their feelings. Giving someone your undivided attention and really engaging with what they’re saying is a fantastic way to encourage them to open up and share more of their feelings.
Try to avoid questions that prompt a one-word or short answer; ask “how”, “what”, “where” and “when”.
Don’t force anything
Forcing someone into seeking help when they’re not ready is very often a backwards step. It can make your loved one feel uncomfortable, pressured and can even lead to them withdrawing further.
Instead of forcing help onto your loved one, let them know that you’re happy to help them when they’re ready. Recognising that you need help to handle a challenging situation is an enormous step, but there’s often a long way between realising that something isn’t right and seeking out the help you need.
Unless you believe your loved one is in immediate danger, don’t make the call for them. Give them the phone number, offer your help and leave it at that until your loved one lets you know they’re ready.
Help with the practicalities
Daily activities can often fall by the wayside if you’re facing mental health challenges.
This is where small acts of kindness can make the biggest difference. If your loved one is finding daily life difficult, why not offer your help with household chores or shopping? You may be surprised how much little things like this can weigh on your loved one’s mind, and therefore how much your help can do to make things better.
Helping with the practicalities also extends to seeking help. Making an appointment with or going to see a doctor is very difficult, so being there to hold their proverbial, or even actual hand is a huge confidence boost.
Know when to seek help
This is absolutely crucial. You can’t do it all yourself.
If your loved one starts to behave in a way that concerns you, or you believe they are in danger, then seek help.
Even if it’s not what your loved one wants, it could well be exactly what they need. If your loved one talks about hurting themselves or experiencing reality differently, it’s important to get professional help immediately.
Encourage them to seek professional help themselves, and signpost it where necessary. Be kind and gentle with them, and acknowledge their feelings.