It can be quite a challenge helping and supporting someone going through tough mental health issues, especially when it is a loved one like a friend, sibling, relative or a colleague.
Given the kind of taboo and stigma usually attached to mental health, the ones going through it already find it really hard to open up and talk about it.
Sometimes you can tell if a loved one is going through a tough time because you will be able to notice certain obvious changes in their mood and behavior. In such situations, it is very important to help and support them because anyone dealing with mental health problems already has it tough in terms of coping with it and battling with it on a daily basis.
Even if their struggle is not evident and you don’t know for sure if they are going through a mental health crisis, understand that knowing is not important. It is more important that you are able to respond sensitively if someone close to you appears to be troubled or disturbed.
However, you are likely to find yourself in a state of confusion with a ton of questions rushing through your mind, such as how to approach a friend dealing with anxiety? Or how do you really support a family member who is struggling with depression? Should you encourage them to seek professional help?
While you may not know not know for sure what to do and how to approach them, especially if they haven’t opened up to you, there are a few essential basic things you can do in order to help and support them.
Talk to Them
When you are aware that something is wrong and it is bothering someone, talk to them and get them to open up but not in a persistent manner. Taking this initiative is important because waiting for them to come to you and hoping that they will open up to you might worsen their state of mind and prolong getting the help they require.
Talking and listening are the first two vital steps you should take when you know someone is going through a difficult time. Only then you will be able to find out what’s troubling them and then you can help them accordingly.
Let Them Share at Their Pace
Talking about mental health is hard enough already, don’t make it worse for them by pushing them to talk more or pressuring them to tell you everything. The key is to be patient and to actively listen. Allow them to share as much as they want to and give them a chance to lead the discussion at their own pace.
You should understand that talking about problems and issues takes a lot of courage, confidence, and trust. Chances are also that you are the first person they are ever talking and opening up to. So try to give them as much time as they need without being insistent and pushy.
Be Empathic and Helpful
One of the worst things you can do when helping someone deal with their mental health is telling them to “snap out of it” or to “get their act together.”
Not only are these statements incredibly insensitive but they can actually make things worse. All this does is trivializes their experience, feelings, emotions, or thoughts and may even belittle and dismiss their feelings.
You should always try to be empathic and considerate without ever coming across as patronizing or condescending. Offer them reassurance by letting them know that you are always there for them and that they are not alone.
Don’t Try to Diagnose of Make Assumptions
As you try to offer words of comfort in hopes of helping out a troubled friend or relative, remember that you are not a trained mental health professional or counselor. While you may experience this intense urge to help fix things as soon as possible, try not to diagnose and come to a conclusion of what’s wrong with them.
You have to understand that you are no medical expert and you cannot possibly come up with your own diagnosis and solutions even if you think you know what is wrong. Also, never try to second guess their feelings and assume that you already know what caused them to feel that way.
Be an Active Listener
Often times, people dealing with mental health are simply looking for others who will really listen to them, understand them and respect their feelings. Considering how this issue is often dealt with great insensitivity and tactlessness, actively listening to a troubled and worried person can truly make things easy for them. Repeat after them what they tell you in order to ensure that you understand them. You may not necessarily agree with what they say and you don’t have to, either. But you must show that you understand their feelings and you are really listening to them.
Offer Them Support to Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, people struggling with mental health problems really need professional help and assistance. In such situations, they require more than just talking things out and opening up to a friend or family member.
What you can do here is find out all possible options and places that you can take them to if that’s what they want as well. It is important to note here that you must allow them to make their own decisions without trying to take control. Yes, they might need immediate professional help, but it has to happen if and when they are ready. All you can do is advise them and encourage them to seek medical help without enforcing it on them.
As difficult as it might be for you to talk to someone battling with anxiety, depression or any other mental health problem, always remember that it is equally hard, or even harder for them to open up and talk about it.
You must always give them their due space and time while exercising patience and empathy because that’s some of the few things they need the most when going through tough times.