Support for someone who’s struggling with their mental health

The ups and downs of life can affect each of us differently. Sometimes it won’t be obvious that someone is struggling, but having the support of family, friends, and close colleagues can help us better navigate the challenges that come our way. Don’t wait until someone is visibly distressed or in crisis to ask them how they’re really going.

mental health

Don’t wait until someone is visibly distressed or in crisis to ask them how they’re really going (Photo: Today’s Veterinary Business)

Maybe you’ve noticed that a friend’s behavior or demeanor has changed and you’re concerned, or a family member is opening up to you for the first time about their anxiety. It’s challenging to know what to say or do. Here are things that you can do and should not do when you’re supporting someone who is struggling with their mental health.

Express Your Concern

Support mental health 04 Washington State University

Bring up your concerns when identifying behavior changes (Photo: Washington State University)

If you notice a pattern of behavior changes or mood in your loved one’s mood or behavior, you should bring up your concerns. While it may be uncomfortable to get the conversation started, doing so is the first step to getting your loved ones the help they need. Start by expressing your own concern rather than acting as if something is wrong with the person. Try using statements like “I’ve been worried about you lately” or I’m concerned”. Let them lead the conversation by asking open-ended questions like “I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down lately. How are you feeling? or “Do you want to talk about it? I’m always here for you.” Even if you don’t entirely understand what your friend is going through, you can still be there for them in a healthy, supportive way.

Listen and validate

People want to feel heard, especially when they are struggling with difficult emotions or experiences that might make them feel very alone. You don’t have to pretend you are feeling the same way as your friend. Just listening non-judgmentally. Be curious about what your friend is struggling with and how it’s impacting them. Instead of asking yes-or-no questions, ask open-ended questions to allow them to share their experience with you — questions like What’s going on?” or That sounds really difficult. How are you coping”. Acknowledging how they feel is both validating and comforting. It reminds your friend that you are listening to them, that you believe that what they’re going through is real and that you want to help them cope.

Ask how you can help

Support mental health Lullaby Trust

Ask how you can help (Photo: Lullaby Trust)

It shows that you care, and helps take some of the guesswork away. What they have to say might surprise you. If they don’t have an answer ready, it might encourage them to start thinking proactively. Instead of making assumptions about what would be helpful is to ask them directly: “How can I support you?” or “What would be helpful to you right now?” Remember: Support looks different for everyone, and what you may need when you’re struggling may not be what someone else needs when they’re having a hard time.

Be understanding of their limitations

For example, if your friend is depressed, don’t expect them to go out with you every time you invite them. But do keep asking, it’s good to keep checking with them regularly (a quick text is fine), keep them company when you can, and remind your friend that you love them and you’re on their side and their company is valued.

Providing emotional support

mental health

You can encourage hope (Photo: The Independent)

You can play an important role in helping someone who’s not feeling well feel less alone and ashamed. They are not to blame for their illness, but they may feel that they are, or maybe getting that message from others. You can help encourage hope.

Don’t gossip. 

It is often very difficult for people to open up about mental health challenges. If a friend confides in you, respect their trust and don’t share more than they would want. Know that it is okay to go to an adult for help if they need it.

Change the subject

Listening is important, but sometimes so is providing some welcome distraction. All of your conversations don’t need to be about your friend’s mental health. Sharing what is going on with your life, talking about something you’re both interested in, or suggest them to go somewhere quiet or take a walk together. In times of extreme anxiety, it can help to try a grounding activity, like going for a walk or finding a peaceful place to talk. Grounding activities may be done alone or with another person and may include listening to music or enjoying a soothing scent.

Encourage Them To Seek Professional Help

Support mental health Feeljoy

Sometimes, goodwill is not enough. You need to know how to help, and when it’s too much, recommend professional help (Photo: FeelJoy)

As much as you may want to, you cannot help your loved one all on your own. The same way someone with a sickness such as a cold or flu would need extra love and support, one suffering from a mental health condition needs it too. While you may be able to provide some emotional support, mental health experts and medical professionals are trained to identify and create treatment plans for all sorts of mental health issues. 

Join us to celebrate Swinburne’s Wellbeing Week

R U OK? Day (Thursday 9 September 2021) is Australia’s national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that any day is the day to ask, “Are you OK?” and support those struggling with life.

Get involved and inspire everyone in your community to learn when and how to have a conversation that could change a life in our R U OK? Session at Swinburne Vietnam Wellbeing Week:


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