Supporting friends with mental health problems

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If a friend, family member or colleague is experiencing mental health problems, small gestures like simply texting them or inviting them out for a walk could make a big difference.

When someone is feeling low the signs can sometimes be hard to spot but Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, explains why simply listening , empathising and talking can have a hugely positive impact.

Spotting the symptoms

“Symptoms of mental health problems can vary considerably from person to person and may not show themselves in a way that other people would notice. If someone close to you doesn’t seem themselves, the quickest way to start supporting them is simply to ask how they’re feeling. Often small, everyday actions can make a big difference.”

Listen and empathise

“Just asking how they’re feeling and listening non-judgementally can have a huge impact. You don’t have to explicitly talk about mental health – it can be as simple as texting them to let them know you’re thinking of them, inviting them out for coffee or dinner, or going for a walk together.”

Ask how you can help

“Everyone will want support at different times and in different ways, so ask them how you can help. Your loved one may already know how you can support them – like going for a walk or making them a cup of tea. By asking what you can do to help support them, it can help them feel more in control.”

Encourage them to seek help

“If someone’s mental health is affecting their day-to-day life, encourage them to seek help. You could ask them if they would like you to help book or attend a GP appointment with them, or you could research sources of support together. If a loved one is suicidal, act straight away by urging them to call Samaritans on 116 123 or supporting them to go to A&E where they can be seen by a professional.”

Try to avoid adding pressure

“It's understandable to want to help someone face their fear, or focus on leading them towards practical solutions; but it can be very distressing for someone to feel forced to face situations before they're ready. Patience is key, so take it slowly and support them to do what they feel comfortable with.”

Don’t forget to look after yourself

“It can sometimes be really challenging to support someone with a mental health problem – you aren’t alone if you feel overwhelmed at times. It is important to remember to look after your own mental health too, so you have the energy, time and distance you need to be able to help others.”

For more information about supporting someone who is experiencing mental health problems, see How to cope when supporting someone else or call Mind’s Infoline on 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday 9.00am – 6.00pm).

Oli Reedmind