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Are U OK?

How you can help a friend/family meneber going through mental health challenges

person needing help

From common everyday struggles of living in the 21st century to severe mental health disorders, the majority of us have been exposed to mental health challenges. We might have suffered or are experiencing it personally or otherwise we have almost undoubtedly come across it in our lives. Whether a family member, friend or colleague, we’ve surely come across it within our community.

As it is so prevalent in our lives, it is important to be prepared and have some tools up our sleeve to help those who are struggling. This does not by any means suggest that we all must study a certificate or degree in mental health. Rather, we should just equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills that will help us, with the sometimes daunting task, of supporting someone with mental health difficulties.

Here are some of the key things that I have found to be important when helping someone who is struggling with their mental health:

First, it is important to keep calm and don’t overthink. Supporting someone with mental health challenges can be extremely scary and anxiety inducing. You’ll possibly feel extreme dread when they specifically confide in you or come to you for support. The first thing you need to do is to remain calm, try not to freak out or overthink (I know, easier said than done). It’s easy to get caught up in panic and worries “What do I say?” “What do I do?”, “How can I help them?”. You can (and should) take moment to respond, take a breath and trust yourself that “you can do this!”

It’s important to remind yourself that you are not a psychologist and are not trained in mental health, so you’re not expected to have all the answers or gold-standard techniques, neither is anyone, even with extensive training.

What you can provide to your struggling friends/family is a fully-attentive listening ear, a comforting hug and a shoulder to cry on. Allow them to talk and express themselves while listening in an open, non-judgemental way. Shower them with an abundance of warmth, empathy and compassion. Having someone they love just “hear” and “hold” them, can have an extremely powerful effect on those struggling with their mental health. Excessive worry and overthinking can prevent you from being able to provide the love, care and support this person needs from you at that moment.

Another way we can help those people in our lives are suffering with mental health challenges, is to educate yourself about mental health. Knowledge is power- so when we equip ourselves with some basic mental health information, we’re better able to support these people. It’s very important to be able to recognise some of the signs that indicate someone’s mental health is declining. Some things you might notice are:

o Appearing more moody or low in mood.

o Appearing increasingly irritable and agitated

o Increased social withdrawal.

o Changes in sleeping, eating and personal care habits.

o Reduced activity and engagement levels.

Be alert and perceptive- if you notice any concerning mood or behavioural changes in someone, act on it. Trust your gut- if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. The golden rule is “if you see something, say something”. Someone going through mental health challenges may not feel comfortable to confide with a family member, friend or professional. At an appropriate time and place, a caring comment such as “I’ve noticed that you haven't been yourself lately, is there anything I can do for you?”, can be a huge lifeline for them. It can be the ice breaker that allows them to get the informal and/or professional support they need. However, not always is the person ready or wants to confide in you and this must be respected fully. It can be detrimental to push someone to talk or seek help when they are not ready to.

The most powerful thing you can give someone going through mental health challenges is your unconditional love and support. Tell and show them that you are and always will be there for them. Give them your love, understanding and guidance without attaching any conditions and expectations. Some ways you can do this is through displaying acceptance, presence, non-judgement, empathy, patience and respect. These are critical elements in any interaction with someone struggling with their mental health. By providing these elements of unconditional love and support, you can create a nurturing environment that promotes healing and recovery.

Social engagement can exceed one’s mental and coping capacity while emotionally vulnerable, therefore social withdrawal is common when struggling with mental health. If you notice this in someone, gently encourage them to engage rather than withdraw. Social interaction and support are key factors in emotional well-being and is vital from recovery as well. However, it is important not to push too hard or force someone to be social when they “don’t feel up to it.” Rather, regularly (but not incessantly) encourage and remind them of the social support available. Where appropriate (and possible), link them with social support that may assist them e.g. groups, organisations, events.

Once the groundwork of unconditional love and support is laid, they might be open to the suggestion of professional support. Use your intuition when/how/if to suggest this. If you believe it will be perceived well, it can be a vital source of support. It may also be appropriate/beneficial to have suggestions of where someone can access professional psychological support. A GP is a great resource for this purpose. An internet search will likely yield results for local mental health professionals.

Supporting someone through mental health challenges can be extremely stressful and emotionally taxing. It is vitally important to take care of yourself during this process. Frequently check-in with yourself to ensure you’re ok and not possibly exhibiting someone the signs of emotional distress, similar to the ones you may have noticed in the other person. Take time for yourself and don’t become overly consumed in supporting this person. Regularly engage in self-care and activities that promote your own mental health- e.g. healthy eating, exercise, sleep, leisure activities, relaxation, social activities etc. If necessary, talk to someone about your experience, whether friend, family or professional. Don’t see this as a sign of weakness, but rather empowerment- that you are doing what you must do to help another. Remember- you can’t pour from an empty cup, so continue to fill your own and you’ll be able to fill others.

I hope this article provide you with a few tips and tricks that will help you support someone in your life who is struggling with their mental health. While it can be overwhelming, it does not have to be more that just being there for them and assisting them in accessing the tools they need to support their mental health and recovery.

Here are a few websites that have excellent information and resources in supporting mental health:

· Black Dog Institute-

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