How To Support Someone The Right Way?
If you clicked on this article because you’ve been noticing that someone you love or care about isn’t being their usual self, or that they may be struggling with mental health concerns, I want to first start off by saying Thank You.
As someone who struggles with poor mental myself, knowing that there’s someone whom I can turn to means a lot. So, I just want to acknowledge that your support matters to your loved one, and I’m glad you’ve decided to take the first step towards helping them.
Now, you may find yourself wondering: what can I do to support them? Or even, how can I help if I’m someone who’s also struggling with a mental health issue?
We’re here today with Dr. Jenn Hardy, licensed psychologist specialised in relationship counseling, to share with you tips you need to support your loved one through their mental health journey, even if you’re also struggling with your own.
#1 Recognise what you see as clues, use them as conversation starters appropriately
Although it may be easy to tell when your loved one is struggling with their mental health, it’s a different case when you’re trying to tell what exactly they’re struggling with.
“There are many types of mental health disorders, so it would be hard to summarise all of the possible symptoms and issues that you might see,” Dr. Jenn said. “That said, there are clues that the person you care about may be struggling.”
Here’re some examples:
- Sleep issues
- Appetite and eating changes
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Crying a lot
- Substance abuse and misuse
- Talking about their suicidal thoughts
- Changes in mood and personality
With many types of mental health disorders, each with their own unique or overlapping symptoms, Dr. Jenn emphasised that the above examples are just: clues. And so, even if you notice your loved one is experiencing any, or more than one, of the above symptoms, “it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person definitely has mental health issues.”
Instead, she suggested taking a different approach to seeing these “symptoms” – use them as conversation starters.
One thing you may say to a friend who’s struggling is:
“I notice that you’ve stopped hanging out with our friends. I’m concerned about you. Can we talk about your reasons for stepping back from these friendships?”
#2 Let them know you’re there to care, to listen
Now, if your loved one acknowledges and accepts your reaching out, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the idea of how to initiate the conversation.
If you find yourself wondering: How should I bring up my concerns? How should I start? What if I said something wrong? Please know that starting the conversation could be challenging!
It is indeed a difficult and serious conversation to tackle. But the truth is, perfection is not what you’re trying to aim it.
“I think that a lot of people feel pressured to know exactly the right thing to say to make everything all better for their loved one,” Dr. Jenn said. “It makes sense that you want to help; you see their pain and want them to feel better.”
But the reality is: there is just not one magic formula where if you follow it, all the issues are going to magically disappear. There’s no such simple fix to anyone’s issues.
“Make it clear that you are someone who cares and who will listen,” she said. One example of good conversation starter is:
“It seems like you are going through a lot, would it help to talk about it with me?”
#3 Be a good supporter, not a problem solver
Now that you have initiated the conversation, how should I bring up what I’m concerned about? you may ask.
Again, the key here is not to find the perfect thing to say or to do, but to be genuine and just, be there for your loved one.
In fact, it’s okay to be honest about not knowing what to say.
“Remember, it isn’t your job to rescue them or fix them rather,” Dr. Jenn said, “it is your job to listen and support.”
One thing you can say is,
“I’ve been noticing that you have seemed different lately. I’ve been trying to find the right words to say. I might get it wrong, but I want you to know that I care about you and want to help.”
By saying this, you’re showing to your loved one that you’re non-judgmental, curious, and kind. “Instead of giving them the solutions to their problems, it’s about helping them come to solutions themselves.”
#4 Encourage treatment, but don’t push
Discussing mental health with a professional is helpful and treatments like therapy or counseling are always beneficial, especially to those who may be experiencing a serious crisis.
But before you recommend your loved one to seek for professional help, Dr. Jenn said that it’s important to first have a good, long conversation with them.
You don’t want to contact any of the services on their behalf without them knowing. It’s all about communication and transparency.
Why? Because “the person you are concerned about may interpret your recommendation as judgmental or dismissing,” she said. And that’s the last thing you’d want for them to feel.
#5 Take care of yourself while reaching out to help your loved one
If you’re someone who’s also struggling with a mental health concern, and want to help your loved one, I hear you.
I understand how hard struggling with it to begin with, so knowing that your loved one’s experiencing similar issues could be overwhelming and heart-wrenching at times.
But always remember this, taking good care of yourself is crucial to taking care of others.
“Depending on how connected to this person you are, it may be helpful to seek out your own therapy if you haven’t already,” Dr. Jenn said.
For example, if it is your close family member or friend that you’re concerned about, it could be useful for you to talk with a therapist about the feelings and concerns you have about them. “A therapist can help you figure out boundaries that balance your needs and your loved one’s needs,” she said.
What’s more, if you have been in therapy, it can really help to mention that when you bring up the idea of seeing a therapist. “It helps to normalise seeking help,” she said.
Last but not least:
“It’s okay to take breaks. It’s okay to encourage your loved one to pull in other people to support each other.
“They don’t need to face it alone. You don’t either.”