It's hard to see someone you love suffer. Whether your friend needs emotional support or a family member is struggling with bouts of depression, it can be difficult to figure out how to support them — and when to turn to the experts.
According to previous research, support from friends and family is a vital part of helping someone who is going through a mental illness. While it may be very emotionally and physically demanding, supporting a friend with mental health challenges is also incredibly rewarding.
"Many people experiencing a mental health problem will talk to friends and family before they speak to a health professional, so if someone turns to you, the support you offer can be really valuable," Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind tells Country Living. "You don't need to be an expert to talk about mental health and there are simple things you can do to help."
To help us know how to support a friend or family member with mental health challenges, Stephen has shared his tips ahead of World Mental Health Day 2020 (Saturday 10th October)...
1. Be patient and stay in contact
Not everyone will be ready to talk immediately; some will take more time than others, and that's OK. "If they aren't ready to talk, or aren't sharing as much or as quickly as you'd like, be patient and let them work at their own pace," Stephen tells us.
"In the meantime try to keep your relationship normal – chat about work or films you've watched – do what you'd usually do as friends."
2. Understand their triggers
Take time to get to know your friend or family member better. Ask them whether there is anything specifically that induces their anxiety, fear or unhappiness. Knowing this may help you better understand how to approach their needs.
"Often people have specific topics, events, people or other things that can trigger poor mental health," says Stephen. "They may also show warning signs for worsening mental health such as withdrawing from their usual activities, sleeping poorly or acting erratically. Try to find out what these triggers and warnings are for your friend and how you can help them avoid or manage these."
3. Listen carefully
Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen. We might not have the right words to say, but often listening to someone talk can help them in their time of need. Whether it's a phone call or meeting for a coffee, you never know how much it may help. It's important we remember to check up on one another.
4. Suggest going for a walk
While the physical benefits of walking are notable, the mental boost that can be gleaned from walking is phenomenal. In fact, according to a previous study, a simple walk in the park can boost your mood as much as the arrival of Christmas.
If you've spotted signs your friend might be struggling, why not suggest heading out for a walk? Pour some tea into a flask and embrace the beauty of nature together. You might just find the conversation flows better than simply sitting down at home.
5. Support them to get professional help
While it's important to help loved ones on your own, remember that it's still OK to encourage them to seek expert help (this will also help to take the load of your shoulders, too).
Stephen tell us: "You can't force anyone to get help if they don't want it, but mental health problems are treatable. Reassure them that it's ok to ask for help and help them find appropriate services. There are a huge range of support options out there, from online peer-support like Mind's Side by Side, to counselling and therapy available through your GP."
6. Take care of yourself
Caring for someone else is wonderfully rewarding, but it can also be overwhelming. Remember to be kind to yourself; take time out to read a book, try a new hobby, do some baking or simply head outside for a refreshing walk.
"It's important to remember that your mental health is important too, and may be impacted by supporting someone else. Speak to friends or loved ones if you need support, be realistic about what you can and can't do, and take a break if you need it."
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, help is available from The Samaritans via their website or by calling 116 123.
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