Offering Help: Mental Health
Reaching out to someone who is stuggling can be life changing
When it comes to asking someone about their mental health, starting the conversation can be difficult. We often don’t know what to say to someone in psychological pain and may not know what resources are available to assist them. While that initial outreach can be difficult, it is worthwhile—and in many cases, it saves lives. So what can you do to make a difference in the life of someone who is struggling with their mental health? Here are some suggestions for reaching out:
1. Talk to the individual in a setting where they feel comfortable.
Understand that someone may have difficulty talking about how they are feeling when they are surrounded by other people or in a public setting. Try to initiate the conversation in a private or semi-private location so the person feels more at ease.
2. Express concern and support by using “I-statements” to initiate a conversation.
By using this type of communication, you are taking the focus off the individual and conveying that you’ve noticed changes. Most importantly, I-statements show that you care. I- statements can be used in many different ways. Here are a few examples:
“I see that you seem anxious/upset/worried today. Is there something on your mind?”
“I have noticed some differences in you recently and wonder how you are doing.”
“I wanted to check in with you because I noticed you’ve been pretty upset/anxious/worried recently. How are things going?”
3. Be a good listener.
Pay attention to what someone is saying by making appropriate eye contact, facing the person, and nodding your head when they’ve made a statement about how they feel. If you are unsure of what they mean by something they’ve said, ask clarifying questions.
4. Give reassurance to the person that you care about them and want to help.
Validate what they are saying by using phrases such as “I can see why that would made you sad / anxious / etc.” or “I can tell that being in this situation is hard for you. Just know that I’m here to support you.”
When working to reassure someone, don’t blame them for their symptoms; instead, show them respect by letting them know you are there to help.
5. Communicate thoughts in a clear and concise way.
When talking to someone, do your best to speak in a calm manner and keep your voice at an even tone. Do not be argumentative with the person, even if you disagree with what they say. This is especially helpful in crisis situations because it works to de-escalate a situation.
6. Let them know that recovery is possible!
Many people think that what they are feeling will last forever and may not understand that they can feel better. Let them know that there are many resources available to help them get through their difficulties, and encourage them to seek such help if needed.
7. Ask what you can do to help.
Sometimes a simple word of kindness or checking in with someone on a regular basis can make a world of difference. By asking, “Is there anything I can do?” or “Can you think of something I can do to help you get through this difficult time?”, you allow the person to tell you what is helpful to them verses assuming what they need. If they are not able to think of something that would be helpful, suggest going on a walk together, helping them make dinner, or simply talking on the phone.
8. Encourage professional help or self-help strategies.
If someone is struggling with their mental health, it could be helpful to suggest they visit their medical doctor or a mental health professional. Let them know that sometimes people need to seek treatment to feel better again. You could also suggest self-help strategies such as reading books, exercising or joining a local support group if they are not open/able to seek treatment.
9. Be patient.
Realize that talking about mental health is not easy for someone. Though you may want your friend, family member, or co-worker to feel better immediately after talking with you, realize that recovery takes time. Don’t try to rush someone into feeling better again. Instead, offer them consistent support as they continue to work through their mental health issue. It may take several conversations or multiple referrals to services.