Right now, someone out there is struggling with their mental health. As we all go about our busy lives, we might not give this statement a second thought. It might not even occur to us mental health problems could affect people we know – but there is a very good chance that it does.
Consider this: every year, one in five Canadians will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. In all probability, that means we all know someone who is struggling right now.
“Maybe it’s a friend of ours. Maybe it’s a family member, a loved one, or even someone we work with,” says Amber Mckenzie, psychologist with BEACON. “They may be comfortable discussing their mental health issues, or they may try to keep things private; whoever they are, and whatever their circumstances are, they may be in need of help.”
So, how can we offer them support in a healthy, effective, and positive way? How can we offer meaningful support to those going through a difficult period in their lives, all the while being aware to take care of ourselves?
These tips will help you understand what it means to support someone with a mental health concern – something we’re all capable of with a little work!
Know that mental health exists on a continuum
On one side, you’ll find what we call ‘mental health,’ which is related to factors such as the amount of sleep we get, our social connections, how often we exercise, and similar everyday things.
On the other side of the continuum, you’ll find what we call ‘mental illness.’ This is when someone meets the criteria for things like generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and PTSD among others.
“A good example of the connection between these two sides of the continuum is when someone takes care of important mental factors like getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly,” says Mckenzie. “This scenario may be less likely exacerbate a metal illness. It also goes to show that you can do things to lessen or stop symptoms of a mental illness.”
Let them know you’re there for them
A good listener is a good mental health ally for certain, but that comes with practice. Firstly, it’s very important to just let someone feel understood – when we feel understood and like we are being heard, we become much more open to sharing and giving and receiving feedback.
“It’s all about listening to them,” adds Mckenzie. “Asking questions, and responding with something like ‘it makes sense that you feel that way,’ or ‘I get what you’re going through.’”
What’s also helpful to keep in mind is that this is a two-way stream – listening and responding is something you can work on together, feeling it out as you go.
Find a good time to offer help
This comes with a caveat, in that there’s never really a right time to bring up someone’s mental health – but there certainly are times that are better than others.
“Aim to do it in private, and not in front of others at family dinner when siblings, parents, and other relatives are all gathered round,” says Mckenzie. “This approach will put them on the spot, which is a bad idea.”
So look for an ideal moment alone with them, and try to sound as gentle and as curious as possible – try something like “Hey, so I’m a little bit worried about you; I noticed that you’re having a hard time getting to work lately – is there anything going on?” There’s a chance that, no matter how you approach things, it’ll flop, but remember that you’re doing the best that you can!
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Supporting someone with a mental illness is not always easy, and requires a great deal of patience, understanding, and perception. With a healthy and positive approach, however, you too can help make a difference in someone’s life.
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