How to help someone struggling with their mental health

As part of my mental health round up week, I have written this post identifying how we can help friends or family struggling with their mental health. I am often asked this by friends trying to help other friends. Looking for advice on what they can do for other people. I am always reluctant to share this sort of information because I am not a trained professional, I am just someone who has struggled with their own problems so the advice I give to others is only tips which have helped me and I cannot guarantee they will help other people.

In this post, I have tried to add in links and wider resources to help everyone out as this is going to be a very brief and generic post and definitely won’t be able to delve into the different triggers and issues each condition can present with. My first pointer would be to visit Mind. They have a long list of different Mental Health conditions and how to help people who are struggling with them.  I found Mind’s information on how to help with panic attacks useful as I know I often didn’t know how to help myself with panic attacks let alone, other people.

These are my generic tips to help anyone you feel is struggling with their mental health.

  1. Set time aside to speak to them one and one and keep phones away. It is important you make time to speak where there are no distractions, nowhere to rush off to. I often find going on a walk or driving in a car, a situation where you don’t have to look at each other or have eye contact can encourage friends to speak more. Make sure the person you are talking to knows they have your attention and you are listening.
  2. Don’t try and second guess how they feel or spend the whole time relating it your experience. I can be really guilty of this sometimes. I often find it is my go to to try and show friends I have an understanding of what they are going through and how my experience is similar. I can often find it comforting when the tables are turned. I don’t think this is always the wrong thing to do but don’t try to project your experience onto them. Don’t try to make it feel like what they are going through is not any worse than your experience because everyone can handle things in different ways and don’t try to project your own diagnosis on people. Of course, offer advice if it is asked but try to consider how you would feel the other way around and try to not be too tough on responses.
  3. Don’t start with ‘attacking’ questions. Keep them open-ended, such as ‘how have things been?’ instead of ‘I can see you haven’t been you lately’. Whilst the second question isn’t bad it can really depend on the relationship you have with the person. An open-ended question in a safe place. It can give a lot more to interpretation and can offer someone more time to develop their response. The second type of questions focuses straight to the problem which can often leave people feeling caged into talking about something when they might not be ready to.
  4. Try to stay consistent in your friends routine – It is easy especially with social anxiety to build up stress and worry that a situation is going to be a lot worse than it potentially could be. By staying consistent it could make it easier for your friend to remember the last time you went out felt good (hopefully) and it will keep the routine going.
  5. Listen without passing judgement
  6. Be mindful of language– Its ok if you haven’t suffered from any mental health issues, in fact, it is great but try to be mindful of the language you use. It may seem as simple as just ‘cheering up’ but I can assure you when you are in this headspace simply ‘cheering up’ is not possible. So instead of saying ‘hey cheer up, everything will be ok’ think of steps which will help your friend or family member eventually feel more positive.
  7. Ask how they are looking after their physical health and wellbeing. Often the two are linked, if not well is there anything you can do to help? I make sure I stay away from caffeine and too much sugar. It is also important to remember that many people can suffer from chronic illnesses which can stop them from exercising. Someone’s mental health could be suffering because exercise was a part of their career etc and they can no longer do so to the level they want or at all. As much as I am an ambassador for exercising for better mental health it is important to know the background story before suggesting this.
  8. Encourage the person in question to seek professional help if they acknowledge there is a problem that you cannot help with.
  9. Get outside – Nature can have a calming effect especially due to the lack of people and crowds.
  10. Don’t dismiss what they are saying because you can’t understand it. Your friend or family member is not being awkward, difficulty or hard work. They are not throwing a tantrum or wanting their own way. They are not trying to ruin your fun. They are struggling in ways they probably cannot articulate so remember to find out why they have perhaps acted this way before dismissing their behaviour as not being favourable towards yourself.

 

Helplines

These are Links I have copied from Mental Health Awareness page – This part is not my own work.

Samaritans

The Samaritans offer emotional support 24 hours a day, in full confidence. Call 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

Mind Infoline

Mind provides information on a range of mental health topics to support people in their own area from 9.00am to 6.00pm, Monday to Friday. Call 0300 123 3393 or email info@mind.org.uk.

Rethink Advice and Information Service

Rethink provide specific solution-based guidance: 0300 5000927 Fax: 020 7820 1149 E-mail: advice@rethink.org.

Anxiety

Anxiety UK runs a helpline staffed by volunteers with personal experience of anxiety from 9:30-5:30, Monday to Friday. Call 08444 775 774.

Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice provides free, independent and confidential advice for a range of problems as well as providing information on your rights and responsibilities.

Step Change

StepChange provides help and information for people dealing with a range of debt problems. Freephone (including from mobiles) 0800 138 1111 or visit the website on www.stepchange.org.

MindEd

MindEd is a free educational resource on children and young people’s mental health for all adults.

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