Helping someone struggling with their mental health

by - July 26, 2020

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I know helping someone struggling with their mental health can be incredibly difficult and put you under a lot of pressure. When I first became a carer, I felt very alone and by myself in all of it. I wish I would have come across a post like this.  The advice I am giving here is based on my own personal experience helping others because I know how hard it can be. This is the advice I wish I had been given, but not a replacement for professional help. I hope someone else will find it useful, but please do not treat this as the only way to approach the situation. 

Seek professional help. 

Get help - from a GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, any medical expert - they will be able to refer the person you are supporting to the right professional or advise as to the next steps and what is best. The help you can offer to someone as a friend or loved one will always be limited as it is not your area of expertise. This may seem very obvious, but sometimes it can actually be very challenging because the person you are trying to support may not want to seek the help they need or may be anxious about getting help. Sometimes you will need to be patient with the person you are supporting as they may reject the help they need. You may have to convince them to get help, but you cannot force them if they continue to refuse - ultimately, the person needs to be ready to engage with the help in order for it to be effective. It is much more helpful to let the person know you are there if they ever change their mind or to talk about it if they refuse help than to try and pressure them. There is a lot of stigma around getting help especially when it comes to seeking mental health support. I think it is worth explaining to them that absolutely anyone may need support with mental health at any given point. That whilst it may not be easy, that they will get through it, that pain is temporary and that getting help for your mental health is no different to seeking help when you are physically ill. There is nothing to be ashamed of and whilst it may be difficult at the start and it is a long process, it gets better. There are techniques that they can learn to channel negative thoughts and live with their mental health. 

You will sometimes get it wrong and that is okay.

There will be instances where you will wish you had handled the situation differently. There is no magic answer to helping someone struggling with their mental health. There is no one right way of approaching this as every single person is different. What might work well for one person may not work as well with someone else. Figuring out what each person finds most helpful/ what could be triggering is a learning process and you will sometimes get it wrong and make mistakes. For example, based on my personal experience I have found what helped calm one person I care about down from a panic attack, did not help someone else at all. You will sometimes say things that don't help and that is OK- you will make mistakes and learn from them. What is more important is the experience you take away from it rather than the mistake you made. Just by you being there and not walking away you are already doing something amazing. ❤️

Listen and keep an open mind.

Listen and be open- I think when helping someone else with their mental health it is important to really pay attention to how they feel and not walk in with pre-formed ideas on what they might be struggling with. As every person's struggle will be different, really make an effort to understand and put yourself in their shoes. Be ready to learn more and educate yourself further on the issue. Speaking about hardship when it comes to mental health is often dismissed as attention-seeking, when in reality more often than not, they are desperate cries for help. Be aware of some of your own internalised biases from stigmas in society surrounding mental health or even your own experience. Whilst relating your own experience can be helpful in not making them feel so alone, make sure that you don't do this so much that you are forgetting to listen to their side of the story. At the end of the day, you need to ensure that you are giving the person an outlet and that they don't feel that you are turning their situation into something about you. 

Check in on them. 

Some individuals can find it hard to reach out and may isolate themselves when in a mental health crisis, which can in turn make them feel lonely. It can sometimes be easier for someone to open up if you ask the questions. As hard as some conversations can be, don't shy away from difficult questions. If you think someone may be feeling suicidal or have a feeling they could be, ask them. Asking someone whether they feel suicidal will never make their suicide more likely to happen - it is an important conversation and it could save their life. 

Let them know they are not alone. 

In my opinion, one of the most beneficial things you can do is let them know that they are not alone. What they are going through may be hard and you cannot fix it, but they don't have to do it by themselves. There is someone they can share the pain with. They are not a burden - the part they play in your life makes a difference to you. Reassure them you care about them and how they feel. Let them know that you are available to them for support and that they should never be ashamed for needing to rely on someone else. We all rely on someone at some point. 

Help out with everyday tasks. 

It may seem like something small or simple. But, for someone battling with their mental health, everyday tasks such as cooking and cleaning can become a lot to handle on top of what they already face. Offering to do those tasks for them or doing it with them can make a really big difference.  

Your best is always enough. 

These situations are not easy and quite frankly there will be moments where you feel you have done all you can and it still is not enough. I know what it is like to feel like you are have done all you can, your best, but still feel helpless and not know what to do anymore. It takes time and patience and points of feeling like you are stuck. But, you get through it and truth is you probably help a lot more than you even realise. Don't beat yourself up when it isn't getting better and you don't know what to do. Don't blame yourself for missing signs or not realising earlier. It is not your fault. You cannot blame a past you for acting in a certain way in retrospect - you did not know at the time, and did what you felt was right then. It is more important that you learn to spot similar signs and take it as a learning experience. Also, remember that you are not the only one finding it difficult- imagine how the person you are trying to help feels too. 

You don't always have to be strong.

It is OK for you to not always be strong. Part of the difficulty I have found helping someone else struggling with their mental health is that it comes with this pressure that I have to keep it together all of the time. But you are human with emotions too - you need to let yourself feel. Whilst it is important you try and remain relaxed and transmit this sense of reassurance, it is fine if you sometimes have low moments where you are upset - it is so normal for you to be affected by the situation. It’s sometimes forgotten in the midst of everything that you will also be finding it difficult too and it’s okay to show that. In my case, showing my vulnerable side at one point actually helped someone I was trying to support open up to me. 


Sometimes you'll get hurt.

Whether it be from feeling pushed away, like you are not good enough or having someone who is in a bad mental state say something they should not have, it is not uncommon that you will feel hurt at some point. Often people hurt those who love and care for them the most and those they love and care about the most. It is normal to feel hurt if someone says something to you or does something when they were struggling that seems overly harsh or unkind. However, also try to remember that often this is a reflection of how they feel in the moment, not you. Chances are they will regret it later and that the person is in a lot of pain and reflecting that pain on you (I am not saying this justifies it, and you have a right to feel upset. I just think it is something worth remembering). It is not your fault. If this happens frequently make sure you seek support, recognise your limits and also look out for yourself. 

Look after yourself.

Make sure that you are also getting support from someone else and not dealing with it on your own. Look into getting therapy for yourself, especially if the situation feels unmanageable. Even if it doesn't at the moment, it is worth looking into because you do not need to and should not go through this alone. I did not do this enough initially and nor did I realise I had become a carer - that as a carer support is available for me too. You cannot help someone else to the best of your ability if you do not look after your own mental health. As much as who you are helping is going through a difficult time,  these circumstances will also massively impact you. It can place a huge amount of pressure on you to always be there, and a huge sense of responsibility for something which ultimately you do not have complete control over. It is incredibly hard for you too - from feeling like you are holding someone's life in your hands, helpless, stressed, and generally like it is a lot to handle on top of your own commitments or struggles. You become a carer and that is a hard role to take on and one that no one ever prepares you for - whether it be helping out with day to day tasks that the individual may find difficult, to mentally also being their carer. Combatting their negative thoughts day in and day out, to try and keep the people you love going. It is emotionally draining, very demanding and can be very lonely. It is really easy to get into a cycle where you are constantly putting others needs above your own to the point where you don't feel OK anymore.  Putting other people's mental health above your own is not sustainable in the long run without an adequate support system in place for you. Making sure that you are talking to someone about how you feel and have a voice in everything happening is important for your own wellbeing. The same way you are helping someone else with their struggle - you deserve help with yours and you also need some time for yourself.

I hope this was useful to someone in some way - if you are reading this and are currently in this type of situation, I am sending all the love. Don't lose hope and know that what you are doing is changing someone's life (in some cases saving it) and is incredible. 💛 

If you have not experienced something like this, I hope that if anything, this will spark an important conversation we need to have more openly in society. Talk about mental health with friends, family, research it and always keep learning (I am too). Do your part to break the stigma. Don't stay silent about mental health and correct others if you think they are saying something that is actually adding to harmful stereotypes. People who are struggling with mental health are still human - they are just like you and I - too often society labels them in a way that dehumanises them. 

Mental health matters - it is nothing to be ashamed of and it often is invisible. But, that does not mean that it should be ignored and not treated as seriously or afforded as much protection as a physical illness. Reach out to people you have not spoken to in a while and ask how they are. Even the happy people who always seem to have it together - those people can hide their struggles with mental health best. Wellbeing, after all, is at the very core of how we live our lives. Now more than ever, in a pandemic where we are more isolated, it is imperative that we check on all of those people in our life that we care about. 

I will continue to update this post with anything else I think may be helpful or create new posts in relation to this so save / bookmark this post if you find it helpful. 

Useful links:
There are a lot of helpful resources on the internet and helplines. Research and learn and please reach out if you need help yourself- you have the strength to get through your struggles and all pain is temporary - every single problem has a solution. Below I have attached some links to some helpful sites. 

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