Maybe someone you love has been acting differently lately. Perhaps your mate seems depressed or your partner has become anxious about many things. You know them well enough to tell there’s something wrong. So how can you support someone dealing with mental health problems?
Understand the Symptoms
People with depression might:
- Seem sad or easily upset, like they’re in a bad mood that won’t go away
- Stop enjoying things that they used to think were fun
- Be constantly tired
- Feel bad about themselves when they haven’t done anything wrong
- Find it hard to concentrate
- Seem really restless
- Find it hard to sleep or be sleeping too much
- Have a changed appetite, eating more or less than they used to and so getting fatter or thinner
- Think about death a lot.
Start Talking About It
If you’re worried, then you need to talk to the person about how they’re feeling. But, before you do, think about the best way to approach the conversation. You want them to feel safe and able to talk, not threatened or judged.
Choose a time when neither of you is likely to feel rushed and a place where you can talk privately, without other people interrupting or overhearing. That should help you have a relaxed conversation.
Then ask them how they’re feeling. You can prompt them to think about how they are by telling them what you’ve seen. You could say, ‘I’ve noticed you’re sleeping in a lot’ or ‘You don’t seem as happy as you used to be’.
If they do open up and talk, then you can ask a few more questions like how long they’ve been feeling that way or why things have changed for them.
What Not to Say
Really, you just need to listen and ask questions that help them think about their feelings. You might wish they weren’t like this but you can’t fix it for them so don’t try.
It’s best to avoid unhelpful advice or hurtful comments like:
- Telling them to get over it
- Telling them you know how they feel (it’s very unlikely that you do)
- Blaming them for being sick
- Blaming them for being unreliable or too tired to help much
- Telling them they don’t seem too bad
- Telling them to cheer up or act happy
- Telling them their sadness makes other people unhappy.
Ways to Show Your Support
There are many practical, loving ways to show your support. Some of the most important are to:
- Respect their privacy: If they open up and tell you how they’re feeling, keep it between yourselves unless you’re worried about them hurting themselves or someone else.
- Set safe boundaries: Make sure they know that, if you do become worried about them hurting themselves or someone else, you’ll get involved to keep everyone safe by getting professional help. If it’s an emergency, call 000.
- Be consistent: There’s something wonderful about gentle, reliable, ongoing, practical love and care. It reminds the person that they’re not alone and that they are loved, even if they find that hard to grasp.
- Be patient: People often do get better from mental health problems but it can take a long time and there may be many set-backs. It’s OK to offer help if they’re struggling with daily life but don’t let them become reliant on you — only offer what you can manage without feeling overwhelmed.
- Be there: They might want to talk or they might want to sit in silence with you. If they do want to talk, then listen without judging. Ask open-ended questions (beginning with ‘how’ or ‘what’ or ‘why’) as these encourage longer answers.
- Be aware: Sometimes people with mental health issues start drinking too much or taking other drugs because they think it’ll help them feel better. If you notice this, then talk to them and try to let them know that turning to drugs and drink will only cause new problems.
Someone living with depression or another mental health problem needs help. They’re not likely to get better by themselves. CRAICCHS has a few different ways to get help with a psychologist and social and emotional wellbeing counsellors available. The first step is always to see the Doctor – You could even offer to go with them to their appointment.
Then encourage them to follow whatever advice they were given. Perhaps their doctor has given them a mental health care plan to help pay for visits to a psychologist. Maybe they need to take some medication or go to a mental health support group. Encourage them to keep doing these things to help themselves get better.
Some people with mental health problems find it hard to see anything good in life and doubt they’ll ever get better. You can hold onto hope for them. Telling them to snap out of it isn’t helpful, but sometimes it’s great to show them a beautiful flower or sunset, pay them a lovely compliment or let them know that you believe things can change for the better.
Look After Yourself
If you’re caring for someone who’s depressed or anxious, you’re going to get tired. It’s OK to take a break. Spend time around people who refresh you. Go on a day trip, listen to some music or join a regular exercise group. It’s up to you. Just make sure you do it. You need to recharge yourself so you can carry on supporting someone with mental health problems. At CRAICCHS, we understand that caring for someone has an impact on you too. We’re here for you if you need advice or support to help you care for someone with mental health difficulties.