Supporting a loved one with mental health issues

Seeing a close friend or family member suffering with their mental health can be extremely difficult. It can bring up feelings of helplessness, stress and frustration. But you are not alone, nor do you need to have all the answers. There are many different, manageable ways to support your loved one. 

1. Let your loved one know you are there for them

Spending time with your loved one, asking how they are, or checking in on them are all ways in which you can let your loved one know you are there for them. Creating a space in which they feel that they can talk to you can help them feel like you are there for them, even if they may not take you up on the offer immediately. Spending time together, on the other hand, can show them that you care about them and that you are understanding of what they’re going through. 

2. Ask how you can help them

Your loved one knows how best to support themself. Maybe they are looking for advice, practical support, or maybe they just want to voice their feelings. It is best to ask them how you can best support them or what they would like from you. Let them guide the level of support you offer, so that they feel empowered and heard. 

If they ask for advice, or are unsure of what to do next, consider suggesting: 

  • Seeking professional help. Let them know that, whenever they are ready, professional help is there for them. This can either be by accessing their GP, contacting helplines (such as Samaritans on 116 123, CALM on 0800 58 58 58, or texting SHOUT to 85258), or seeking therapy. Perhaps you could suggest going to appointments with them to offer support or help them write down a list of questions to prepare for an upcoming appointment. 
  • Practical support. Is there something around the house that is causing your loved one stress? Do they need help with arranging childcare? Doing something that could practically help them may lift a weight off their mind. 
  • Creating a safety plan. A safety plan is a written-out list of coping strategies for when a person is navigating suicidal feelings and thoughts. Creating a safety plan with your loved one may be a way give them the tools to support themselves. Writing this together may help them to clarify their thoughts. For more information on safety plans, please click here. However, if your loved one is in immediate danger, please contact 999 (please see below). 

3. Listen and be open minded

Hearing a loved one express negative, and sometimes dark, thoughts about themselves is hard. It may be a gut instinct to tell them things like ‘it’s not so bad’, or ‘it’ll pass’, or even ‘cheer up’, but these don’t necessarily help and may enforce feelings of guilt. Instead, make sure to offer a safe space to listen. Be open minded to what your loved one has to say and let them tell you how you can best support them. 

4. Try to not always talk about mental health

Whilst it is important to let your loved one speak about how they are feeling when they need to, make sure to let them talk about other things too. If they do not want to speak about their mental health, let them guide the conversation to something else. Sometimes we need to be distracted and talking about something else can help lift our mood. 

5. Look for information to educate yourself and make sure you are informed

It may be helpful to learn more about the mental health issue(s) your loved one is suffering from. If they have a diagnosis, understanding that diagnosis may help you to understand their thought processes better and may reassure you that you are providing helpful advice or support. If your loved one doesn’t have a diagnosis, then please do not diagnose them yourself. Looking up general advice, such as a blog like this, will help you provide more general support. 

6. Look after yourself

Supporting someone you love may bring up some difficult emotions. It may seem like you can’t focus on anything else but the person you are helping. However, taking care of your mental health is incredibly important. By looking after yourself, you will be able to be there for you loved one when they need you the most. To do this, consider:

  • Talking to others in your support network. Being able to talk about how you are feeling, and what you are going through, can really help to manage your emotions.
  • Sharing the caring responsibility. It may feel daunting being the only source of support for your loved one. Bringing others in to help your loved one can not only help your loved one, but also support you in sharing the responsibility you may feel. 
  • Set boundaries and make sure you are realistic about what support you can offer. When someone expresses that they are not doing well, it is easy to get caught up in offering to go above and beyond for them. However, this may not always be realistic. You may have your own commitments or your own triggers that may make offering support in some respects difficult. It is important to remember to set boundaries and only offer what you can realistically do. This can help you to manage expectations and keep you from feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Seek support. Remember that there is always support out there for you whether this is through blog posts like this, helplines or seeking counselling. For instance, the charity Carers UK has help and advice for unpaid carers looking after family members. You are not alone.

7. Be prepared that your loved one may not be receptive to help

Be prepared that, sometimes, your loved one may not be receptive to help. This may leave you feeling frustrated and distressed. It is important to remember that they are an individual and there are limits on what you can do to support them. You cannot force them to talk or to seek help. In these instances, it is key to remain patient with them, and offer emotional support and reassurance. Make sure to remind them that the door is always open for when they are ready to seek support. And remember, it is imperative to make sure you are taking care of yourself. If you are feeling distressed, seek support. 

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What do I do if my loved one is in crisis?

This advice may differ if your loved one is in crisis. A mental health crisis is when a person feels at breaking point and needs urgent help. In an emergency or urgent situation, your loved one may:
– Have harmed themselves and need medical attention.
– Be experiencing suicidal feelings and feel they may act on them.
– Be putting themselves or someone else at risk of harm.
If this occurs, there is help there for you. For example:
– If your loved one is not safe by themselves, please stay with them and help them to contact 999 or help them get to A&E.
– If they are safe by themselves for a little while, help them to call 111 to get an emergency doctors appointment. You could also encourage them to contact Samaritans on 116 123, which is open 24/7. 
– If you are not safe, call 999 and ask for the police. This may seem like you are getting your loved one into trouble, but this is not the case. It is important to protect yourself by calling 999 if you are in an unsafe situation. 

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