For someone struggling with mental illness, support from a friend or loved one can make all the difference.
If you’re concerned about someone in your life, but not sure how to go about asking if they need a hand, you can follow our 9 tips to help ensure the conversation is as open, effective and supportive as possible.
1. Find a private place.
If you’re initiating the conversation take the time to think about the time and place. It’s best to choose somewhere you can talk openly, and a time when you can listen actively, without rushing or checking your watch.
2. Be prepared for any resistance.
The person you’re reaching out to might not be ready to talk, and that’s okay. If you reach out and they dodge conversation or say it’s not something they want to talk about, it doesn’t mean the conversation is a failure. You’ve still let your friend or loved one know you’re concerned, and you’re there for them if they need you.
3. Ask gentle questions.
Do ask gentle questions to help your friend or loved one explore their options. You might ask how long they’ve been feeling this way, or if they need support to see a GP or to contact a mental health professional.
4. Recognise your own level of expertise – or where your ability to help is limited.
Do know your own boundaries. It’s great for you to reach out and offer support, but it’s also important to keep yourself physically and emotionally secure and to remember to take some time out for your own self care. Be mindful of where your expertise or capacity to help is limited. You might need to refer someone on to a professional or other support services.
5. Make sure you have an emergency plan.
If someone is at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, you need to call 000 or to reach out to a trusted person, like a parent, teacher, or health professional immediately.
6. Allow them to express themselves fully.
Try not to use language like “don’t worry”, “cheer up”, or “it’ll be better tomorrow” – language like this can make someone feel as though you’re minimising or trivialising their experience.Instead allow them to express themselves freely without interruptions.
7. Do not diagnose, or analyse.
It’s important not to offer your own diagnosis of what they’re going through, or debating the facts of their experience.
8. Avoid trying to ‘fix’ the problem.
Though it is incredibly hard to see a friend or loved one hurting, it’s important to understand that mental illness is complex, requires patience, and won’t just disappear over night. Instead listen actively, practice patience, ask gentle questions, and suggest different ways for your loved one to seek support.
9. Listen non judgementally.
Try not to judge, analyse or question experiences you can’t relate to, or can’t quite wrap your head around. Experiences of mental illness are unique to each individual and can manifest in very different symptoms, behaviours and feelings. Try to listen without judgment, and to respond calmly, without exhibiting shock or alarm.
If a friend or loved ones need professional support you have a range of options.If someone is at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, call 000 immediately, even if they ask you not to.
For a friend or loved one who isn’t sure what they’re experiencing, or needs immediate support, it’s best to go straight to a GP. If you’re friend or loved one is ready to talk to someone and seek support, they might use a service like Radiant to find and connect to a counsellor or mental health professional that feels right for them.