Sometimes in life we will need to support other people with their mental health.
This can happen in many different ways, as of course everyone’s mental health is different. It can range from trying to help someone through a tough time, to knowing they have a diagnosed condition.
Either way, there are certain ways we can help. In this blog post we look at some of those methods, the attitudes we need to adopt, and places where we can find further help.
Stigma surrounding mental health
One thing to keep in mind is that is can take a lot of courage for someone to open up about their mental health.
Unfortunately there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, and although there has been a huge change in attitude towards mental health over the last few years, there is still a long way to go until it is treated equally alongside physical health.
In particular, people at work can be put off discussing mental health and being able to get the help they need. According to Bupa, one in four people experience mental ill health each year. This means there are a lot of people who feel uncomfortable discussing their condition.
Society in general sadly has stereotyped views about mental illness. Historically, there has often been the perception that mental illness equals violent or unpredictable behaviour. However, in reality it is sufferers of poor mental health that are more likely to be victims of violence.
If someone does choose to confide in you or reveal concerns about their mental health, it’s imperative to be non-judgmental.
Encouraging someone to open up about mental health
As it can be difficult to talk about mental health, the time needs to be right for someone to open up about it. If you believe someone is struggling with their mental health, or they have hinted about it, let them know that you are thinking of them and you are there if they need you. You don’t need to wait for them to make the first move.
Start the conversation by asking open questions that encourage a full response. The question can be something as simple as “how was your day” or “how have you been feeling lately”. Try to avoid closed questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, as they will shut down the conversation.
If they do seem like they want to talk, it can be worth letting them know that concerns about mental health are more common than we think and nothing to be ashamed of.
Find a safe time and place to talk
It is important to find an appropriate place to discuss mental health. It should be somewhere private with no distractions. If you are at work, then a private room without incoming phone calls, other people dropping in or excessive background noise is ideal.
Outside of work, somewhere where the two of you can talk away from others is best. This doesn’t necessarily need to be at home. A neutral venue might let them feel more comfortable, plus they may need to discuss things that they may not wish their family or partner to hear.
Don’t try to fix it
When a friend, colleague or family member decides to talk about their mental health, it can be tempting to tell them what they need to do to solve their problem. Do not do this. Mental health can be a journey that will take time to address and improve. There is no such thing as a quick fix.
Remember, different people may try to offer differing “solutions”. This can be confusing, undermine the problem and may make them feel that they’re somehow doing things wrong. Bear in mind that you may not know the full story.
Offer to help in a practical way
Instead, ask them if there’s anything specific you can do to help and take the time to listen. You can offer to organise paperwork, accompany them to any appointments, or even something relatively minor such as offering them a lift somewhere.
As previously mentioned, any such help should be offered without expectation that it must be taken up. For example, you can offer a friend a lift to a doctor’s appointment, but they themselves may not be ready to seek expert help yet. Just let them know that you support them and will assist when needed.
Don’t change your behaviour
Keep doing and talking about things you normally would. Most people don’t want their whole personality or life to be defined by their mental health, so keep things as normal as you can. Keep inviting your friend or family member to social events and talking about the other aspects of their life.
If you behave differently, it can make them feel more self-conscious, or feel as though something is wrong with them. As a friend, it’s important to remember that it’s their mental health that’s changed, not their personality. You wouldn’t speak to someone differently if they had a broken arm, so the same should apply with mental health.
Catch up regularly
After the initial conversation, make an effort to keep checking in. Mental health issues can take a long time to resolve, so it’s very unlikely the problem will go away because of one chat.
Regular catch ups can help you to recognise any change in their situation, along with other signs of distress. This can help you make adjustments to how you support them, such as if they need further help or advice from a professional.
Look after yourself
Supporting someone else can sometimes be stressful. To be able to help to the best of your ability, you’ll need to ensure your own mental wellbeing is looked after first. Doing so means you’ll have sufficient time, energy and clarity of thought.
When supporting someone else, set boundaries and don’t try to take too much on. After all, you are not a trained professional. If possible, try to share your caring role with other people. If you need to, talk to someone else about your own feelings. You don’t necessarily need to divulge information about who you’re supporting, but it’s important for you to feel supported too.
It can be very beneficial to learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health. Mental Health First Aid England’s courses are ideal for doing so, and can also help break the stigma surrounding mental health. They also provide contact information and links to where further support can be found.
At BounceBack, we’re hosting several upcoming online MHFA training sessions. You can sign up for them either as an individual or as a member of an organisation. To learn more about the MHFA Mental Health Awareness courses, please click here: https://www.bounce-back.com/upcoming-events/