In today’s world, there is so much stress and pressure and unfortunately, mental illness or symptoms of mental illness are becoming all to common. We all have people who are important to us and we would do just about anything (if not anything!) for these people. It becomes difficult though, when we are unsure what to do to help.
- What happens if what we say or do makes things worse?
- What happens if we offend the person or if we can’t fix the problem?
- What DO we say?
It’s these questions and more that stop people from asking how others are and increases the stigma around mental health. Sometimes, it’s not that people don’t want to help, it’s just that they don’t know how to.
So what can I DO?
Ask them how they are.
Ask the person how they are doing, and then actually listen to what they say, even if it may makes you uncomfortable. Let yourself reflect on what they have said, like “Wow, that’s really tough” or “I can see why you feel so bad”. This helps validate what the other person is saying, helping them to feel more accepted, listened to and “normal”.
- Don’t try to ‘fix’ them
Just because you are asking someone how they are, doesn’t mean you have to fix all their problems and issues. Give them the space to talk and only talk. Taking the pressure off yourself to find solutions can make supporting someone and listening to them much easier.
- If you think you can solve their problem, ask their permission first.
If you think you may know of a way to solve their problem, ask them whether they want to hear it. Sometimes people feel naturally better after getting things out and they are then able to cope. Sometimes people don’t want you to solve their problems for them. If people are already overwhelmed and feeling terrible, people telling them what they SHOULD be doing can make them feel worse (even though we often mean the best!). A simple statement such as “I think I know what you could do, did you want to talk about it?” or “Did you want any suggestions?” can give the person their power back and they will often say yes. However if they say no, don’t be offended, just continue to be there for them in other ways.
Encourage them to seek action – the right type of action
The type of action here is very important. It’s very important we don’t try to throw answers at the person involved as they may feel blamed, become overwhelmed or close down. We want to encourage the person to take action regarding what they can control. If their issues and problems seem to overwhelm them, encourage them to seek professional help. If you think they may need to take a break say something like “I’m going to get a cup of coffee/tea, did you want to come?”.
Ask them what THEY need?
It is important to ask the person what would help them, instead of doing something WE think would help them (or doing something that would help ourselves). This way you have direct insight into what they feel will help them and you can use your time to maximum effectiveness. Be prepared in this situation that the person may not know what they need. If this is the case, leave the question open-ended and ask them to think about what they need and to let you know once they do.
Be there for them.
Showing that you are there for them can mean a lot to someone. This doesn’t have to be solving their problems or fixing things. It could mean sending them a small care package, watching a movie with them, bringing them food, or going out with them, helping them around the house and generally just being there with them. Sometimes the biggest thing that can help a person is having someone else there who is not putting pressure on them to fix things, someone who they know they can go to if they need to, a sense of reassurance and a presence of calm and normality.
Check in regularly.
It is important to check in regularly to see how they are going. Did they have a few good days? Did they have a few bad ones? Knowing you are there consistently and regularly will reassure the person that you actually care about them and they can trust and depend on you.
What if the person doesn’t want to be helped?
Tell the person you are worried about them and why. Sometimes when we are not feeling the best, we are not aware of how bad things are. Hearing these things from others can sometimes help to put it in perspective. Also, hearing that someone else is concerned about us may also help us to feel supported and loved.
Consider that you may not be the person they wish to help them and look at other options.
Is there someone they would rather talk to? Is there someone that may be better placed or better qualified to talk to them? Discuss these with the person and talk about these other options with them.
Sometimes it can take a lot for someone to open up. Be consistent in your support and continue to let the person know you are there for them. Continue to remind them (but don’t pressure them) that you are there for them if they want your support.
Continue being their friend
It is important to ensure you are not making your friendship with the person solely around you fixing their problem – or else it isn’t really a friendship. Just be there for them and continue to do the things you normally would.