You may find it tough supporting someone with a mental health issue and even avoid discussing what they are experiencing because you don't know what to say, or you're afraid about saying the wrong thing.
Supporting them and acknowledging how they feel can make a real difference--even if it is just staying in contact, listening and showing you are there. There is no 'one size fits all' model for supporting someone who is in distress.
Tips to help when someone needs your support
- Ask how they are and make sure you have the time to really listen to their response.
- Be positive, sensitive and encouraging.
- Ask if there is anything that you can do to help.
- Keep the conversation open and relaxed.
- Encourage them to keep regular contact with you and others
- Try to engage them in healthy lifestyle activities e.g. healthy eating, getting enough sleep and getting some regular exercise.
- Invite them to do some activities together (such as exercising, socializing, joining a sporting group, watching movies).
- Provide some specific information about what they are experiencing e.g. books, brochures and offer to make an appointment and/or take them to their doctor or mental health professional for additional support.
- Use 'I' statements? such as 'I'm worried ... 'or 'I have noticed'.
Try not to ...
- Make unhelpful or dismissive comments like 'snap out of it', 'pull yourself together'; 'forget about it'; 'I know how you feel'. These comments can invalidate their experience.
- Pressure them to into discussing their issues with you if they don't want to.
- Make fun of their mental health issues.
- Avoid them or avoid discussing suicide and self-harm. It can be difficult to know what to say, but usually when people talk about suicide they are looking for help. Just being there for them is important.
- Get frustrated and use words like 'psycho' or 'crazy'.
- Feel guilty if you didn't notice that they had a mental health issue. People often hide their symptoms from close friends and family.
The Headspace website features more information on what to look out for and how to support those you are concerned about, with resources on a range of topics from mental health, substance abuse, work/life balance and physical health.