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supporting someone with their mental health

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.

It is first important to note that it is good that your friend or family member feels comfortable enough to speak to you, but it is equally important to try and find out what sort of support your friend might need, and what support you are capable to offer.

This looks different for everyone and varies so much depending on your mental wellbeing and support systems, as well as theirs.

Check if the person talking to you needs anything right away

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

Open conversations

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 interjecting. 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.

Open ended questions can be helpful to create space for them to talk. For example:

  • ‘How long have you felt like this?’
  • ‘Do you have anything in place that makes you feel better at the moment?’
  • ‘Where/when do you feel safest?’
  • ‘How can I best support you right now? Would you like advice, or a listening ear, or help with getting any further support?’

It is important to try and not 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 how they feel. 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.

Checking in

  • When it’s time for you to part, it can be helpful to ask if they eaten/drank enough that day. Or if there is anything else they need.
  • 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. This could be an hour after you’ve spoken, or a day after, depending on how you left them. 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 meet up again to chat. Or you could offer to do something entirely different like going to the cinema/going for a walk.

If the person is in crisis, it is important they contact professional help. Your support can encourage them to take the initial step of getting help, which is often the hardest.

Remember that there are other avenues you can explore to support someone with their mental health. Our ‘Need support?‘ section details support you can get from Change Mental Health and others.

This blog was written by our student volunteer, Hannah.

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