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Supporting someone with a mental health problem

Mental Health Support

It can be distressing and upsetting to see someone we love experiencing a mental health problem. Despite your good intentions and desires to help, you may be left feeling powerless and ill-equipped to provide mental health support. Remember that for this person, even having someone check in on them may make a vast difference. It will help them feel less alone, as they are reminded of the fact that people care about how they are feeling.

What symptoms might they have?

Anxiety and depression are not one-size-fits-all disorders. In fact, the symptoms can vary drastically from person to person. Some of the physical signs you can look out for are:

  • Lack of energy or feeling tired all the time
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep or sleeping too much

Emotional signs may be harder to spot if the person isn’t very forthcoming or communicative about their emotional state and their distress is not visible.

  • Changes in behaviour and demeanour
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Seeming sad and in low spirits
  • Saying that they feel helpless or hopeless
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • A lack of interest in activities that were previously pleasurable
  • A decrease in concentration levels
  • Being more irritable and impatient than usual
  • Finding day-to-day life difficult e.g. household chores
  • Trouble relaxing and symptoms associated with restlessness

Top Tips for Providing Mental Health Support

Find a way to get time with them – Let you know you are there for a chat.

Create a compassionate space – Be kind, curious and patient; show your interest in helping.

Ask twice – Often we aren’t prepared to give a full answer when someone asks us how we are. Therefore, it is important to go beyond a passing comment and get to the bottom of how the person is feeling.

Reserve judgement – By fostering a warm and non-judgemental space, the person may feel more able to confide in you.

Ask open questions – Those that invite them to explain more how they are doing. For example – How are you feeling? Do you want to talk about it?

Active listening – Repeat back what they said to ensure you have understood it and pay attention to your body language, eye contact and facial expression.

Display empathy – Validate how they are feeling by reassuring them that you understand or sharing any similar experiences you may have. But try not to make the conversation about you though – always relate your experience to what they are going through.

Don’t try to diagnose – Or second guess their feelings or jump to conclusions.

Let them go at their own pace – Don’t fire too many questions at them and give them enough time to answer.

Respect privacy – Let them lead the discussion so that they can share as much or as little as they want to. Respect that the conversation may be nerve-wracking for them and don’t add to the pressure they may be experiencing.

Offer them help in seeking professional support – By offering to go to their GP with them for instance,  or helping them talk to a family member or fill out a referral form.

Know your limits – Signpost to a mental health support service such as Community Living Well if necessary. However, if you believe they are in immediate danger, then always call 999.

This story was originally published in the Autumn 2019 Community Living Well magazine. Subscribe today to receive mental health and wellbeing tips straight to your inbox, four times a year!

Refer to the Community Living Well service here.