Supporting someone struggling with their mental health
Practical advice from first-hand experience on helping someone struggling with their mental health.
Supporting someone with their mental health is not easy. But, in a pandemic where we are more isolated, this is even more relevant. I would like to share advice from my personal experience of helping someone who feels suicidal and more generally supporting someone with their mental health.
I would just like to start by saying that there is no magic answer to helping someone with their mental health. There is no one right way of approaching this as every single person is different. What might work well for one person may not work as well with someone else. Figuring out what each person finds most helpful/ what could be triggering is a learning process and you will sometimes get it wrong and make mistakes. Also, I am not a doctor and in these cases, it is important to seek the help of an expert and not try and handle helping a person struggling with mental health by yourself - the help you can offer to someone as a friend or loved one will always be limited as it is not your area of expertise. The advice I am giving here is based on my own personal experience helping others. This is not a replacement for professional help. I hope someone else will find it useful, but please do not treat it as the only way to approach the situation. Furthermore, this post does not include and will not include any personal details and is purely written from my experience of the perspective of helping another person seriously struggling with mental health and wellbeing.
1) Get help - from a GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, any medical expert - they will be able to refer you to the right professional or advise you as to the next steps and what is best. This may seem very obvious, but sometimes it can actually be challenging because the person you are trying to support may not want you to or may be anxious about getting help. There is a lot of stigma around getting help especially when it comes to seeking mental health support. Absolutely anyone may need support with mental health at any given point. I think it is worth explaining that whilst it may not be easy, that they will get through it, that pain is temporary and that getting help for your mental health is no different to seeking help when you are physically ill. There is nothing to be ashamed of and whilst it may be difficult at the start and it is a long process, it gets better. There are techniques that individuals can learn to channel negative thoughts.
2) Listen and be open- I think when helping someone else with their mental health it is important to really pay attention to how they feel and not walk in with pre-formed ideas on what they might be struggling with. As every person's struggle will be different, really make an effort to understand and put yourself in their shoes. Be ready to learn more and educate yourself further on the issue. Speaking about hardship when it comes to mental health is often dismissed as attention-seeking, when in reality more often than not, they are desperate cries for help. Be aware of some of your own internalised biases from stigmas in society surrounding mental health or even your own experience. Whilst relating your own experience can be helpful in not making them feel so alone, make sure that you don't do this so much that you are forgetting to listen to their side of the story. At the end of the day, you need to ensure that you are giving the person an outlet and that they don't feel that you are turning their situation into something about you.
3) Check in on them. Some individuals can find it hard to reach out and may isolate themselves when in a mental health crisis. In my opinion, one of the most beneficial things you can do is let them know that they are not alone. What they are going through may be hard, but they don't have to do it by themselves. There is someone they can share the pain with. They are not a burden - the part they play in your life makes a difference to you. Reassure them you care about them and how they feel. Let them know that you are available to them whenever they need support and that they should never be ashamed for needing to rely on someone else. We all rely on someone at some point.
4) Your best is always enough. These situations are not easy and quite frankly there will be moments where you feel you have done all you can and it still does not cut it. I know what it is like to feel like you are helpless and don't know what to do anymore and I am sure most people who have been in this situation can relate. It takes time and patience and points of feeling like you are stuck. But, you get through it. Don't beat yourself up when it feels like it isn't getting better and you don't know what to do. Don't blame yourself for missing signs or not realising earlier. It is not your fault. You cannot blame a past you for acting in a certain way in retrospect - you did not know at the time, and did what you felt was right then. It is more important that you learn to spot similar signs and take it as a learning experience. Also, remember that you are not the only one finding it difficult- imagine how the person you are trying to help feels too.
5) There will be instances where you will wish you had handled the situation differently. There is no one right way of helping someone in such a difficult situation and as each person is different, it is partly a learning experience. For example, based on my personal experience I have found what helped calm one person I care about down from a panic attack, did not help someone else at all. You will sometimes say things that don't help and that is OK- you will make mistakes and learn from them. I definitely have. Just by you being there and not walking away you are already doing something amazing. ❤️
6) It is OK for you to not always be strong. Part of the difficulty I have found helping someone else struggling with their mental health is that it comes with this pressure that I have to keep it together all of the time for their sake. But you are human with emotions too - you need to let yourself feel. Whilst it is important you try and remain relaxed and transmit this sense of reassurance, it is fine if you sometimes have low moments where you are upset - it is so normal for you to be affected by the situation. In my case, showing my vulnerable side at one point actually helped someone I was trying to help open up to me.
7) Look after yourself - make sure that you are also getting support from someone else and not dealing with it on your own. I did not do this enough initially. But, you cannot help someone else to the best of your ability if you do not look after your own mental health. As much as who you are helping is going through a difficult moment, it is too often forgotten that these circumstances also massively affect people who care about the person. It can place a huge amount of pressure on you to always be there, and a huge sense of responsibility for something which ultimately you do not have complete control over. You will inevitably be affected by the situation and it can be incredibly hard for you too - from feeling helpless, feeling stressed and generally feeling like it is a lot to handle on top of your own commitments or struggles. It is really easy to get into a cycle where you are constantly putting others needs above your own to the point where you don't feel OK anymore. Making sure that you are talking to someone about how you feel and have a voice in everything happening is important for your own wellbeing. The same way you are helping someone else with their struggle - you deserve help with yours.
I hope this was useful to someone in some way - if you are reading this and are currently in this type of situation, I am sending all the love. Don't lose hope and know that what you are doing is changing someone's life and is incredible. 💛
If you have not experienced something like this, I hope that if anything this will spark an important conversation we need to have more openly in society. Talk about mental health with friends, family, research it and always keep learning (I am too). Do your part to break the stigma. Don't stay silent about mental health and correct others if you think they are saying something that is actually adding to harmful stereotypes. People who are struggling with mental health are still human - they are just like you and I - too often society labels them in a way that dehumanises them.
Mental health matters - it is nothing to be ashamed of and it often is invisible. But, that does not mean that it should be ignored and not treated as seriously or afforded as much protection as a physical illness. Reach out to people you have not spoken to in a while and ask how they are. Even the happy people who always seem to have it together - those people can hide their struggles with mental health best. Wellbeing, after all, is at the very core of how we live our lives. Now more than ever, in a pandemic where we are more isolated, it is imperative that we check on all of those people in our life that we care about.
There are a lot of helpful resources on the internet and helplines. Research and learn and please reach out if you need help yourself- you have the strength to get through your struggles and all pain is temporary - every single problem has a solution. Below I have attached some links to some helpful sites.
Help keep me going 🙂