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How to support someone with mental health problems
It’s Men’s Mental Health Week and we are taking this opportunity to open up a very important discussion on mental health. Understanding and talking about our mental health can be difficult and it can be even more tricky to support a loved one who is struggling. Whilst it might feel like you can’t do anything, the good news is there are actually plenty of things you can do to support someone with mental health struggles.
It’s important to note that whether you’re reading this for a loved one, or even yourself, you are not alone if you are struggling with your mental health. In fact, according to the UK charity Mind, 1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health difficulty each year. 1 in 6 people report a common mental health issue, like anxiety or depression, every week in England. Males in England also experience a high rate of mental health struggles – the Mental Health Foundation reports around 1 in 8.
How to identify mental health struggles
We all feel low or anxious at times and whilst these feelings are part of the texture of life (i.e. there is good and bad, rough and smooth), when these periods of low mood get worse and/or become a part of our daily lives for an extended period of time, it’s time to have a conversation and potentially seek further help or support
Depression and anxiety are the two most common forms of mental health condition and they impact 1 in 6 of us every single week in England alone. We may feel anxious or depressed for a short time, perhaps impacted by circumstances in our life, but sometimes this feeling can last for an extended period of time. We are going to focus on these two for this article, but it’s important to note that there are many other mental health conditions which present in different ways. If you are concerned for the immediate safety of a loved one, it’s important to seek professional support urgently.
Anxiety is a feeling when we feel tense, worried, overwhelmed or afraid – possibly about the future or upcoming situations. It’s a human response to when we feel under threat. We all might feel anxious at times but anxiety can become a serious mental health condition when it impacts our ability to function in our daily lives. For example, if your anxiety stops you from performing activities like work or socialising with friends or family, your fears or worries are out of proportion for the situation or you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, like panic attacks.
Some of the symptoms of panic attacks are: (and remember, everyone experiences mental health differently)
- Feeling dizzy
- A churning in stomach
- Feeling restless or unable to sit still
- Headaches, backaches or other aches
- Sleep problems
- Panic attacks
If you are suffering from anxiety you may experience a few or just one of these – we are all incredibly different. If you notice these in yourself or someone else, there are actions you can take to support.
Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time and impacts your day-to-day life. In its mildest form, depression may mean you are feeling low for a short period of time. Depression can be moderate and severe, and considerably impact people’s lives. There are a few different types of depression including seasonal affective disorder, dysthymia, prenatal depression and post-natal depression.
There are a number of common signs of depression, including but not exclusively:
- Feeling down, upset or tearful
- Restless, agitated
- Guilty or feeling worthless
- Empty and numb
- Finding no pleasure in activities you usually enjoy
- Low self-confidence or self esteem
If someone is suffering from depression they may avoid social activities, eat too much or too little, feel tired all the time, have difficulty sleeping and may even experience physical aches and pains, amongst others.
If you are concerned for the immediate safety of a loved one, it’s important to seek professional support urgently.
If you recognise any of these things in yourself or someone else, there are things you can do to help them.
How to support someone with mental health struggles
Listening is one of the most invaluable things you can offer. Make sure you engage in active listening – that is to listen intently and then repeat certain things back to them in different words, so they feel supported and listened to. The first time someone opens up about their difficulties is a big moment, so make sure you listen and reassure them.
2. Offer support and guidance to further help
It may be that your loved one needs external help and you can be integral in supporting them to get that help. A good first port of call is the GP. You can offer to take them to the appointment, sit with them inside or if they’d rather you didn’t, wait outside to take them for a coffee or a walk after. Your presence alone will be more helpful and supportive than you can imagine.
3. Be patient
Patience is key when it comes to mental health. It isn’t something you can just ‘snap out of’ and so being impatient is not conducive to recovery. The recovery isn’t always fast either. It takes time. So being patient, open and supportive is something you can continually do.
4. Act as you usually do together
Sometimes your loved one might want to talk about their mental health, sometimes they won’t and that’s okay. It’s important to continue the activities you do together without treating them differently. If you play sport, still encourage them to do so. If you go for walks, pick new routes for you both. Offer them a space to talk about the tough stuff and the silly stuff – they need both and will value your support for both.
5. Encourage self-care
A small thing you can do for your loved one is encourage basic self-care – help them cook healthy meals, get outside, exercise if they can – all of these things have been proven to help our mental health.
6. Look after yourself
It can be upsetting to hear about someone else talking about their low feelings, especially if you love them. It’s important to take time to look after yourself whilst supporting others, by making time for self-care and even seeking external support if you need to too. Make sure you have people to talk to, so you have a support network in place for yourself and for you and your loved one.
Talking about mental health is hard and sometimes loved ones might struggle to find the words to express how they are feeling. That’s okay – give them space to express themselves in whatever way they need to. Talking is the first positive step to better mental health and so it’s important not to take this step lightly. The steps that follow are incredibly individual in terms of diagnosis and external support, but it’s important to say, whatever you are going through or whoever you are supporting, you do not have to do it alone.