Did you know that 1 in 6 people experienced a mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in the past week? (Source) And thanks to lockdown, I fear this stat will now be much higher.
Looking after our mental health, as a nation, has never been more important. It’s important for us to not only look after ourselves, but our friends, family and colleagues too. Supporting someone with a mental health condition can be really daunting. You might not know what to say or how to broach the topic with a loved one, but don’t worry, you’re not alone. People like me, for example, get really good at hiding what’s really going on. We put on a smile, hold our heads high and look like we’re functioning properly, but underneath, we’re drowning.
Luckily, my fiance, family and friends have helped me through the worst times and I’m so grateful for that. At the time, I found it hard to tell them how I was feeling in case they got upset or they thought badly of me. Turns out, neither happened.
I’ve put together 6 ways to support someone with a mental health condition. The below might not fit with every occasion, or every person, but it gives you an idea of some things you can do to try and help a loved one out.
Let them know you’re there for them
When I was going through some rough times, my family and friends were supportive from a nice distance. They let me know that they cared about me and were worried but that they were there if and when I needed them. This reassurance gave me the space I needed to try and decipher exactly how I was feeling and how I could explain this to someone else. The person struggling might be angry or upset and might direct this at you. Try not to take it to heart. They’re going through a tough time and won’t mean to take it out on you.
Ask them ‘how are you?’
This is such a simple little question but one that could see so many answers. These days, when life is so busy but we’re apart from our loved ones, asking someone how they’re doing could go a long way. If they live alone, for example, they might not have spoken to anyone in days so might want to tell you everything that’s been going on. Or, because they haven’t spoken to anyone in a while, they might struggle with what to say. Be patient. You can always lead on from this question with ‘what have you been doing?’ or ‘how have you been feeling?’ to try and get them to chat to you. Whatever you decide, it will be much appreciated.
Talk to them about things that help them
Try talking to your loved one about what they find helps when they feel anxious, depressed, overwhelmed etc. For some it could be keeping a diary, creating artwork, doing exercise or talking therapies. This might open up the conversation and gives them something positive to talk about. If nothing gives them relief at the moment, talk to them about what they like doing and see if there’s scope for them to start something to help their wellbeing.
Do a little research
If you’re worried about a family member, friend or colleague and aren’t too sure where to start with helping them, take a look at the ‘Supporting someone with a mental health problem‘ on the Mind website and ‘How to support someone with a mental health problem‘ on the Mental Health Foundation site. These resources are so useful and are a great place to start. These sites also have a list of mental health conditions and how you can recognise these to help you in your research. Being able to understand and let your loved one know that you’ve been doing some research might help inform the conversations you can have, making you feel more prepared.
Listen to what they tell you
Active listening is so important when in conversation with someone with a mental health problem. ‘Active’ listening is when you fully concentrate, take in everything you’re being told and respond accordingly. For example, look at the person speaking directly, nod occasionally and use encouraging sounds like ‘yes’ and ‘mm hmm’. This will show someone that you’re interested in what they’re telling you. Try not to be judgemental and be honest if someone is asking for your opinion. If they’re asking, they really value you and your response.
Look after yourself
It’s so amazing that you want to help your loved one with whatever is going on with them but remember, you need to look after yourself too. Depending on what someone tells you, it can be really hard listening to how they’re struggling. Our human response is wanting to help them as much as we can. If you think they require urgent help or you need to tell someone else about it, call the Samaritans (116 123) or the Mind Infoline (0300 123 3393). The volunteers on both phone lines are amazing and will able to listen and if appropriate, offer guidance.
If you’re reading this, thank you for being so thoughtful in wanting to help your family member, friend or colleague. It might not seem like it now, but your help could change their life for the better.