If someone close to you suffers from mental health issues then you’re probably no stranger to feeling helpless. You may never have experienced mental health problems like anxiety or depression, so what can you do or say to make it better?
From someone who has been in this position, here are a few tips to help your friend or family member through this tough time…
Get in the headspace of a mental health sufferer
Imagine feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders and having all these negative feelings that you just couldn’t explain. And even if you desperately want to talk about what’s going on in your head, when you get the opportunity to speak out, your mind turns blank and you just can’t find the words.
Imagine the fear of losing friends, a place at uni or a job just because of how you’re feeling, it’s terrifying. Worst of all, it’s infuriating when you can’t help but feel that you’re battling this alone.
Take your time to research
Perhaps what your friend is experiencing is something new to you. The NHS website has plenty to offer with a broad variety of mental health issues: how they develop, the symptoms they may be experiencing and the ways to reduce the effects. If you want to research further, then charities and organisations such as MIND have excellent websites to understand mental health issues – They have an A-Z guide providing information and support. By having some insight into what is going on with your friend, you may be able to help.
Remind them that you are there for them
Suffering from mental health issues can be a lonely place and it’s easy to forget that friends and family are there for you. A meet-up, or even a quick text or call is simple yet can mean the world to someone who is battling in their own mind. Remember that even if their replies may seem blunt or disinterested, the opportunity to talk and have a break from their problems will always be valued.
Be open about your own feelings
People suffering from mental illness may find it difficult to talk about what is happening inside their heads. Perhaps they may have stigmatized their own situation, or maybe they are living in fear of being seen as attention-seeking. Being open about your own emotions or mental health issues in general can set an example for them, and remind them it is okay to not be okay.
Remember: healthy body, healthy mind
Mental health problems are not as easily cured by eating better and exercising. However, these do release endorphins (feel-good chemicals) which can boost low moods. Perhaps you could encourage them to engage more stimulating activities: going for walks, joining yoga classes or playing sports in your local park. Although your friend may not feel entirely up to it, let them know the opportunity is always there.
Avoid saying things like: “cheer up”
Don’t compare how they are feeling to a bad day that you’ve had. Your friend may say to you that they’ve had a really tough time getting out of bed and getting themselves to school or college. Responding with something like: “haha yeah, we’re both so lazy! Can’t wait to go home!” is the WRONG approach. Similarly, they may say that they’re feeling really down today and that they just can’t focus on anything. Saying something along the lines of: “cheer up!” or “just snap out of it!” is probably the worst thing you could say.
Being critical in this way can be not only belittling, but can make them feel guilty for what they are feeling. Understand that mental health issues do not always have a cause, and are not as simple as cheering yourself up.
It’s difficult to know what to do or say when someone is going through something you haven’t experienced yourself. The important thing to remember is to say something, even if it is to ask how their day is going or letting them know you’re there to listen.
If you have any concerns for a friend or family member regarding mental illness, the following NHS link has a variety of websites available to aid with all mental health issues: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/mental-health-helplines.aspx