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supporting others with their mental health

supporting others with their mental health

You are not alone.
If you or anyone you know are feeling suicidal, help is available.

Samaritans (116 123) is a 24-hour anonymous service available every day of the year. If you prefer not to speak on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org.

PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal. 

Breathing Space (0800 83 85 87) is a website and phone service for anyone experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety.

NHS 24 by dialling 111 if you feel you need to speak with a medical professional.

Self-Harm Network provides free and compassionate support, resources and information about self-harm.

Content Warning: The following article discusses about suicide and could be triggering. 

When someone you care about, such as a friend or a family member, comes to you for help with their mental health, it can often very be daunting to know what to say back.

Experiencing a mental health condition is challenging and many people face difficulties in life due to things like loneliness or financial worries.  

It is positive that a friend or family member feels comfortable enough to speak to someone about their mental health, but it is equally important to understand what sort of support they might need and what support they can offer. 

This looks different for everyone and varies so much depending on mental wellbeing and support systems. In this guide, we’ll explore various ways in which you can support a loved one with their mental health. 

Common myths about supporting others

talking about mental health makes it worse

Some fear discussing mental health issues could worsen them. But open conversations often bring relief and understanding, reduce stigma and encourage seeking professional help.

only professionals can help

While professional help is crucial, friends and family play vital roles too. Your comfort, empathy and encouragement can greatly aid recovery alongside mental health support. 

you must have all the answers

You don’t need all the answers to support someone with their mental health. Your presence, understanding and willingness to help are often more valuable than having all the solutions.

What’s the first thing I can do? 

Check if the person talking to you needs anything right away. You can do this by asking yourself three questions: 

  1. Are they in a safe space?
    Consider whether it’s a good place to talk about this right now, or is there somewhere they’d feel more comfortable talking such as the outdoors or a private place.
  2. Is there anyone they need to speak to immediately?
    For example, if they are in crisis, it is best to speak to a healthcare professional and/or a mental health helpline.
  3. Are you okay?
    This is a good time to check in with yourself too – are you in the right headspace to offer emotional support now?

How should I communicate?

If you do feel comfortable, and your friend is openly talking about their situation, it is often good to let them get everything off their chest before saying anything. This may be the first time they are sharing this, which can be overwhelming.

If they respond well to physical touch maybe holding their hand or offering physical support can be good to make them aware of a safe presence, but it is good to check if they want physical contact right now or if they’d prefer space.

Here are some examples of questions you could ask to create a safe space for another person to open up: 

  • “How are you feeling lately?” – this encourages them to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • “Are you getting enough rest and taking care of yourself physically?” – this helps establish how the person is dealing with other areas of their life.
  • “Have you talked to anyone else about what you’re going through?” – this helps identify their support system and whether they have sought help from others.
  • “What makes you feel better at the moment?” – this can help explore their previous experiences with self-care and identify coping mechanisms.
  • “Where/when do you feel safest?” – this helps identify ways to modify the immediate surroundings to promote a supportive and understanding atmosphere.
  • “How can I best support you right now?” – this shows your willingness to assist them properly for their current needs.

It is important not to judge or take anything personally. They might not want to look for solutions right now. Just reassure them that help is there and openly listen to their feelings. Offering a safe space to just sit next to someone is a good way to support someone you care about. Alternatively, they may want a distraction to take away from the situation or prefer to talk while going for a while.

How do I check-in with them? 

Checking in with your friend requires sensitivity and care. Here are some things you might want to consider:

When it’s time to part ways, it can be helpful to check in on their basic needs (e.g., have they eaten) and ask if there’s anything else they require.

Ask if they have spoken to anyone else about how they are feeling or about the situation. It’s good for both them and for you if they feel as if there is someone else they can speak to.

Check-in on your friend. Depending on how you left them, this could be an hour after you’ve spoken or a day after. Just remind them that you are there.

If you feel capable, you could offer to help with some of the admin side of getting more support. For example, talking through care plans/support options, meeting them before/after appointments or arranging a time to chat again.

Offer to do something that could boost their mood like going to the cinema/going for a walk.

What can I do to assist someone experiencing a mental health emergency? 

Acting quickly is essential if your friend or family is in an unsafe situation.

If someone is not safe by themselves right now:

Help them call 999 if you feel able to do so and stay with them until medical attention arrives. If you’re unsure of your location, use the what3words app on your phone. Alternatively, you can help them reach the nearest A&E department. 

If someone is feeling suicidal 

  • Ask them about their feelings and listen attentively to their response.  
  • Ask how you can help them.Take note of their plans and try to understand their situation.  
  • You can also ask them about any factors that are preventing them from acting on their suicidal thoughts, as this may help them to identify positive things to focus on. 
  • To ensure their safety, remove any objects they may use to harm themselves, especially if they have mentioned specific items.  
  • Create a plan together with them on how they can stay safe.   
  • Seek urgent assistance if necessary. 
  • Our resource on suicidal thoughts can help you see the signs more clearly. 

How can I look after myself when supporting someone with mental health?

Looking after yourself is essential, especially when you’re supporting someone else. Caring for your wellbeing gives you the strength, time, and space to assist others. Here are some helpful tips: 

Take a break whenever you feel the need: Even if you cannot take a break immediately, setting boundaries for yourself is important. Sometimes, just a few minutes is all you need to clear your thoughts.

Talk with someone you trust about your feelings: especially if you struggle to cope.

Be realistic about your abilities and set boundaries: Accepting that there may be certain things you cannot change or accomplish on your own can help you feel more equipped to handle them.

Promote the independence of the person you’re supporting: This may require you to take a step back and respect their choices, even if they differ from yours.

Focus on the positives in your relationship: Helping someone with their mental health can affect your relationship with them and even make you feel angry and frustrated. Promote an honest and open conversation and prioritise your role as a friend, family member or partner.

Share your caregiving responsibilities with others: Having support can make it easier to care for someone.

Consider contacting our Advice and Support Service: find local support groups or services for carers. If you’re a carer, have a look at our help for carers page.

support

Our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies. 

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at advice@changemh.org or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page. 

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