Up until now, when I’ve discussed mental health on Blue Jay, I’ve mainly stuck to self-management and self-care type posts. So I thought it was about time I looked at it from another angle: how to support someone struggling with their mental health.
Almost all of us will encounter this challenge at some point in our lives. It may be a parent, sibling, friend, partner or even a work colleague. They may be going through a blip, or they may be living with a long-term condition.
Whatever the situation, it can be hard to know what to do, as someone significant in their lives.
First, let’s start with what not to do.
Do not ignore them. Do not assume because you aren’t a counsellor or don’t know much about mental health that you should keep your distance. Do not avoid topics of conversation because you ‘don’t know what to say’.
As much as people are confident talking about mental health online or in the media, it’s the way we have these conversations in our everyday life that makes the difference. Don’t shy away from it. The more we talk about it, the more ‘normal’ it becomes – that’s how you eradicate stigma.
OK, so now you know what not to do, here’s some thoughts on what you can do to show your support.
How to support someone struggling with their mental health
- Educate yourself. A lot of people shy away from talking about something because they don’t feel they know enough about it. If someone you love is struggling with something in particular, look it up and learn more about how it may be making them feel.
- Start the conversation. Often it will be up to you to take this first step. And this is honestly easier than it seems. Try a simple, ‘how are things, really?’ or ‘what’s been going on in your world lately?’ or even ‘are you OK?’.
- Be there. Be a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a kind hand for them to hold. Sometimes a smile and a hug can make all the difference. Assure them that you are always there to listen – even if you don’t feel capable of actually helping them, being someone they can talk to is precious.
- Encourage, but don’t force. If you feel they would benefit from extra support, for example from a counsellor or a doctor, try to encourage them to seek help. Do some research and let them know what could help and the benefits of getting extra support, but avoid dictating to them or forcing them to do anything they’re not ready to do.
- Ask for help yourself. It can be easy to try and carry the weight of other people’s problems, but remember to look after yourself too and don’t be afraid to speak to a doctor yourself if you’re struggling to know what to do next. They will be able to advise you and may even recommend you chat to a counsellor too.
I remember when I was going through my eating problems, my sister wrote me a letter. She didn’t know I had anorexia then, she just knew I was unhappy and struggling socially at school. In the letter she spoke from experience, telling me about life after school and that no matter how bad things seemed, nothing is permanent.
This really stuck with me and although I ended up needing professional intervention to help me recover, that letter was incredibly important to me. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Letting the person know that it’s OK to not be OK and that nothing lasts forever.