supporting others 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 healthcare 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.
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.
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?” – a general question about their emotional well-being can encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings.
- “Are you getting enough rest and taking care of yourself physically?” – helps to establish how the person is dealing with other areas of their life.
- “Have you talked to anyone else about what you’re going through?” about their support system and whether they have sought help from professionals, friends, or family members
- “What makes you feel better at the moment?’ – Explore their previous experiences with self-care and coping mechanisms.
- “Where/when do you feel safest?” – identify ways to modify the immediate surroundings to promote a supportive and understanding atmosphere.
- “How can I best support you right now?” shows your willingness to assist them most properly for their current needs.
It is important to try 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 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.
- 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. 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. Or you could offer to do something entirely different 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
Stay with them and help them call 999 if you feel able to do so. 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. It would be helpful if you could stay with them until they can see a doctor.
If someone is feeling suicidal
- Ask them about their feelings and listen attentively to their response.
- Inquire about ways you can be of assistance to 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.
You or they should contact a GP or NHS24. They can also contact the Samaritans immediately by calling 116 123 for free anytime. They could also get help from friends, family, or mental health services.
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 aside some alone time 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 to find local support groups or services for caregivers.