How to talk to someone who may be struggling with their mental health
Despite being originally tailored for a young audience, these tips are relevant to anyone who is worried that someone they know may be struggling with their mental health.
Sometimes it is difficult to know if someone is struggling, as it can be hard for people to open up to others about their mental health, even if they want to. But you might have noticed changes in a friend, family member or colleague, or know that they have gone through a hard time recently.
Whether you’ve noticed that they are struggling or they’ve opened up to you about their mental health, it can still be hard to know what to do or say. Here are some simple things that could help:
Initiating the Conversation
Starting a conversation about mental health can be a big, daunting step. If you’re not feeling confident, starting small with a “how are you” or sending a funny video and letting them know you’re thinking of them can be helpful. Checking in with them often can encourage them to share how they’re feeling.
If you’re feeling up for it, find a calm and comfortable environment to talk, and say something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been going through a tough time. Do you want to talk about it?” Opening up can be a relief, and knowing you’re there to listen can mean the world to your friend or family member.
Practicing Active Listening and Empathy
When your friend or family member opens up, be an active listener. Put away distractions and show you’re listening and that you care by paying attention.
Sometimes, even if you don’t fully understand what they’re going through, it can make a huge different just to let them speak without being judged. You can say things like, “That must be so difficult,” “I really get why it made you feel that way,” and “I’m here for you”. Remind them that it’s okay to feel the way they do and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Focusing on Self-Care
Supporting someone you care about can be emotionally intense, so make sure you take care of yourself too. Set boundaries for when and how you can support your friend if it gets overwhelming. Remember to make time for things you love and to recharge yourself too. Speaking to a trusted adult or a mental health professional yourself can also be helpful.
Sharing Personal Experiences
Sometimes, sharing your own experiences can make others feel more comfortable opening up. It helps to know that we’re not alone in our struggles. At the same time, as the conversation is about supporting them, remember to focus on listening to them and avoid turning it into a discussion about yourself.
It’s important to remember that while you can do all of this perfectly, it is your friend or family member’s choice if they want to open up to you, and when and how they wish to do it. Be patient with them and know that all you can do is provide them with the space and time.
Mind are now offering a 90 minute online course to help you support others called Conversations in the Community. Sign up for free here
If you are worried about someone’s mental health, don’t be afraid to suggest that they phone a helpline (such as Samaritans on 116 123). You can also suggest they speak to pastoral staff at school or their GP about how they have been feeling.
Manchester Mind offers a range of services for adults and for young people, age 15-25. See our services information.