Disclaimer – The advice in this post is for people helping friends/relatives/loved ones with mental health conditions that do not put them at serious risk to themselves or others. If you are concerned someone’s life is at risk please call the emergency services.
With so many people suffering mental ill health at some stage in their lives it is highly likely that someone you know is suffering. Someone suggested I write this post from the perspective of someone who has been ill on and off for a long time.
First and foremost it’s essential to talk to the person and ask how you can help them. Some people struggle to talk to people that they are close to but that doesn’t mean that you can’t help. For example there may be certain topics of conversation that they prefer to avoid. Setting up some ground rules can really help the person feel in control and also shows that you understand them. As a teenager, living with my parents, I found it very difficult to deal with them quizzing me on things so it was agreed that we would only discuss my mental health if I brought it up.
While talking with the person, NEVER ever ever try to convince them that how they’re feeling “isn’t that bad” or that they should “just stop worrying”. This is the most patronising and offensive thing you can say to someone who is depressed or anxious. Yes, take their mind off it or suggest something fun you can do together, but don’t try to discredit what they’ve had the courage to open to you about. It may stop them feeling able to talk about their problems in future.
Patience is a good quality to have when supporting someone who is unwell because it can be infuriating. I know that from being ill and also being on the other side of it. By its very nature mental ill health can make people very negative. Some days nothing you suggest will be helpful, everything will “just make things worse”, but you can’t trivialise these feelings because you risk alienating the person. Listening to the person’s concerns and letting them vent this negativity is sometimes all you can do. If you think that you did have a particular idea that would really help the person and it was dismissed due to a mood like this, you could re-visit it in future but be careful not to push it.
Always bear in mind that the person who is unwell, as far as possible, has to remain in control of their treatment. It’s very easy for someone on the outside to think that medication is the answer or that counselling will solve everything but it has to be the sufferer who makes this decision. (Refer to disclaimer, if you’re seriously worried about someone’s well-being this may not be possible)
If you live with the person, they may need space to be on their own more than usual. It’s important that you respect that. It can be very hard to deal with someone who is withdrawn but forcing them to spend time with you when they’re not feeling up to it will only lead to them resenting you. If you can, you could discuss with them how they can let you know that they need a time-out.
In the main the most important thing is to listen to the person you are supporting. It’s so easy to try to help and end up making the person uncomfortable or even cause an argument. If they ask you to move the conversation away from a topic, it doesn’t matter that you think you have the best piece of advice that will make them better, don’t push it. It’s possible that they will come back to it at some point but until they want to discuss it, it’s off limits.
I hope my ramblings are in some way helpful. If you have any other tips for people in this situation comment below.