This is a difficult time for all of us. It’s now more important than ever to look after your own mental health, and to help support the mental wellbeing of your loved ones.
As a friend, you’re likely to be one of the first people to notice if someone is acting differently. There are many barriers that stop people from talking about their mental health, but talking about the problem is the first step to being able to get help.
While you may not be able to see your loved ones or friends as much as you’d like to, there are still ways you can support them during this difficult time.
Tips to help someone you know is struggling
- Learn a little bit about mental health: learning about the signs and symptoms of common mental health conditions can help you understand what behaviour to look out for. See our friends and family factsheet for more information.
- Take a deep breath and think about what not to say: we’ve put some information below on how to prepare to have a conversation about mental health, but it’s equally important to take time to think about what type of conversation you don’t want to have. Thinking about what not to say can also help you to put yourself in the other person’s position and approach the conversation carefully and caringly.
- Prepare to ask how things are – and to listen genuinely to the response. It’s important not to be afraid of speaking to your loved ones about their mental wellbeing. Speak to them normally, remembering that you know them well and are well-placed to notice when things are not right.
- Avoid sounding as though you are providing a diagnosis – while you may have information on mental health conditions and symptoms, it’s important to avoid the assumption that you have already ‘diagnosed’ them.
- Do what you can to help – while it’s important that your loved one takes independent steps towards wellbeing, offering to do seemingly ‘small’ things, could help significantly. See our friends and family factsheet for a checklist of the type of small things you can do.
- Suggest tracking feelings and symptoms each day – when someone is experiencing a mental health problem, it can be hard to get the perspective to understand what is wrong. By encouraging your loved one to keep track of how they are doing day-to-day, this might help them to build up valuable self-knowledge that could be key to their recovery.
- Give support in getting professional help – getting help can be a huge step towards recovery, but it can also be a very difficult process as, for many people, I can means admitting there is an issue and dealing with the fear of being judged or not believed or understood.
For more information, please read our friends and family factsheet.
Starting the conversation
Whether you are living with loved ones, or catching up over text, messages, video chat or phone calls, talking can help. Remember, talking about what’s going on can be hard. There are many reasons why people don’t talk about their mental health. If they’re not ready, just remind them that you’re there when they need you. If they are ready, keep in mind the following:
- Make the time and space to listen and support your friend.
- Ask open-ended questions that go deeper than “yes” or “no” answers.
- Avoid giving advice and focus on listening to what’s going on for them.
- Reassure them that they did the right thing by talking.
- Be non-judgemental: try not to assume you know what caused their problem or that you know how to fix it.
- Don’t dismiss their problems and also don’t try to ‘fix’ them.
What to do next
There is no “one size fits all” way to support someone, but here are some tips on how to be there for your friend or loved one.
- Sometimes a chat is enough, but if you’re still worried after you’ve spoken, encourage them to seek help
- Remind them that you’ll be there to support them.
- Keep in contact where you can in ways that are most comfortable and safe for you both
- Do small things to show you care – like sending them a thoughtful text or making them a cup of tea.
- Come up with a plan for what to do on their “bad days” (e.g. people they can talk to, self-care techniques they can try).
- Be patient: there will be good days and bad days, and motivation to change can fluctuate over time.
- Sometimes people who are distressed may say hurtful things that they don’t mean – try not to take it personally.
Make sure to protect your own mental health too
Supporting others can be mentally and physically exhausting. The time you spend supporting them can vary too – some people help someone for a short time and others find themselves caring for someone for the long term.
Looking after your own wellbeing is important for you and them. For more information, please see our ‘How to cope when supporting someone else’ publication.
If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and speak to someone you trust, whether that’s a friend, a family member, your GP or a helpline such as NHS24 on 111 or Breathing Space on 0800 83 85 87.
- You can find more information on being there for someone here.
- Our information on ‘How to Cope When Supporting Someone Else’ also contains useful information including how to protect your own mental health while helping others.
- If you want to find out more about specific mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, you may find our information useful. Visit www.samh.org.uk/info
- If you would like to speak to someone about mental health information and the support available, our Info Team can help. Our team are available Mon-Fri, 9am - 6pm (except on Bank Holidays) on 0344 800 0550 or email@example.com. Costs charged at local rates on UK landlines.