Looking out for the mental health of those around you is important. As the signs of ill mental health are not always clear to see, it is important to pay close attention to those around you.

Sometimes there are clear signs – low mood, lack of energy, tiredness, a lack of hope and more. But as mentioned, this is not always the case, and some people will struggle in silence.

But the best thing for the person is that you are here, reading this. This shows that you care, and are aiming to help the person. In this article, we take a look at a few things that can be done when you are worried about someone’s mental health.

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WARNING

If you or a person you know appears to be in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, has taken an overdose, or is exhibiting signs of psychosis (e.g. hallucinations, delusions), this is a medical emergency. If possible, go to A&E. If you are helping someone, stay with the person for as long as possible, but only if it is safe to do so. If you personally feel at risk by the person, you may wish to consider calling 999.

Listen

One of the best things that a person can do is just to sit down and listen. It is likely that the person will have a lot to say – even if they may be reluctant to share their thoughts and feelings at first.

But sometimes just having a chance to talk to someone they trust will be a huge help to them. But clearly, this is a sensitive topic, and there are a few do’s and do not’s that we recommend:

Do

  • Listen to the individual carefully
  • Approach the subject carefully
  • Show patience – it will take them time to discuss their problems, and fixing them won’t be an overnight process
  • Express sympathy for the person’s problems
  • Thank the person for opening up to you about their problems to you
  • Say positive things to them e.g. “you’re doing a great job”
  • Ask them some questions, but don’t overstep the balance, and respect their wish if they choose not to answer a question
  • Reassure them if they feel that they are all alone, that they aren’t actually alone, that people are there for them
  • Remain calm during the conversation, and try to regulate your emotions, especially if what they say to you is difficult for you to hear
  • Put your focus on the person when discussing their feelings.

Do Not

  • Jump into the conversation straight away with a similar problem that you’ve faced – in the process taking over the conversation
  • Change the subject early on, give them a chance to speak
  • Downplay their feelings – saying “well it could be worse” is not helpful at all
  • Ask very personal questions about their problems
  • Share what the person has tld you with others unless they have explicitly asked you to, or if you believe they are in danger
  • Force them to open up to you
  • Force them to engage in treatment
  • Decide that a serious conversation is a good opportunity to check your phone – commit fully to listening to the other person
  • Be judgmental
  • Be offended at some of the things they say

Suicidal Thoughts and Feelings

It is also important to look out for suicidal ideation. When you think that someone is having suicidal thoughts, it is particularly important to start a conversation with them.

Letting the person know that they aren’t alone, offering them the chance to speak to you, reassuring them that what they are feeling is temporary and encourage the individual to seek help for their problems can all be useful.

There are many signs that can signify someone is feeling suicidal. The person may say things like “no one will notice if I’m gone”, “no one would care if I died anyway”, or “I’m a burden to others”. Other comments revolving hopelessness and questioning the point of life are other signs to look out for.

They may also be spending a lot of time isolated on their own. They might have gone through a traumatic experience in the past, or are undergoing difficult life circumstances such as relationship problems. It is always important to be receptive to their needs.

Ways to Help

The most important thing when trying to help someone who might be struggling with their mental health is to show that you are concerned, and that you care. The steps outlined above can hopefully be the starting point for a process that leads to treatment, and hopefully, a full recovery.

We really can’t overstate the help that listening alone does. When a person is suffering mentally, many studies have concluded that having a friend to talk with can help immeasurably [1].

Offering practical solutions is important. While the problems of a person can’t be solved in a day, you could offer to take them to a potential appointment or offer to complete simple tasks for them. What may seem like small tasks to the mentally healthy can seem mammoth tasks when struggling mentally. These small acts of kindness can be hugely helpful.

A good starting point is finding a GP. Most people will already be registered to a GP, but if they aren’t, it is a good idea to register the person as soon as possible, if you need to do this, the below links should be helpful – dependent on your geographic location.

Regularly checking in on the person is also important. Unfortunately, it can take a long time to recover from a mental health condition. Starting a conversation is only the beginning – it is important to check in on their progress now and then. Putting aside time to listen to their thoughts and feelings would be helpful.

You may find it useful to research about mental health and educate yourself on some of the symptoms of certain disorders. Information too is available regarding how a person should go about getting treatment. Encouraging a person to engage in this process can be helpful.

Looking After Yourself

It really is commendable for any person to be reading this article – the fact that you are already taking active measures to helping someone you feel is in need is brilliant. Caring for someone with a mental health condition is a difficult challenge.

At times, it is likely to be frustrating, and perhaps even distressing. It is important that whenever you are helping to support someone else, that you pay close attention to your own mental health, and make time for yourself. You can only do so much, and any help is better than no help.

What Happens if they don’t want your help?

This can be a very difficult situation to be in. There are multiple reasons why someone may not want help. But often, the reality is that the person will be in denial about their problems.

Clearly, this puts you in a challenging position. It is best to gently raise the topic of mental health, and see over a period of time – days or even weeks, if you can gradually get them to open up to you. Persistence is key, but try not too overstep the mark, as then they may become overwhelmed, and even less likely to share their problems.

But ultimately, you must respect this. In any case, you can regularly offer your support, and generally provide them with help if they do ever turn to you. At the very least, they would hopefully accept the need to see a GP, which should begin the process towards recovery.

Summary

Helping someone who is in a state of mental distress is an incredibly difficult thing to do. As we have shown in this article, there are several challenges that may arise when trying to help someone, and it is far from an overnight fix.

But the good news is that you are here. Things can be done, and together, we can make a difference. With the right help and support, a person will receive the treatment needed to put them on the road to recovery.

Disclaimer

This website should be used purely for informational purposes, and does not intend to, nor should it ever, be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.

We strive to keep all of our pages updated, and ensure that our website is full of factual and in-depth information. However, we encourage you to browse this website with care.

As a reminder, this website and all content within it cannot and should not replace the advice of a trained medical professional. You can read our full disclaimer at this link.

Helplines

If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. With the right support and treatment, you can make a recovery. For information on helplines, or if you are in a state of crisis, please visit our crisis page by clicking on the relevant link for your geographical location (United Kingdom), (United States), (International). You can also see how to get mental health treatment and the process involved by clicking this link.

References

[1]     Teo, A. R., Choi, H., & Valenstein, M. (2013) Social relationships and depression: ten-year follow-up from a nationally representative study. PLoS One. 8(4). Doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062396