How to Support Someone Struggling with Their Mental Health: A View from Both Sides

By Ellyse Rafferty

There will come a point in almost all of our lives when we will encounter someone who is struggling with their mental health. It might be a close friend, a family member or even a work colleague. It might be a short-term issue or more long-term.

These Conversations Help Us Eradicate Stigma

In any of these situations we may find ourselves in, it can be challenging to know what to say or do.

What IS important is that you do not just avoid them because you are feeling unsure of how to respond. Although it can feel difficult, the more that we talk about it, the easier these conversations become and the more we eradicate stigma.

Some Suggestions to Help Start the Dialogue

Having been on both sides of this, as the ‘supporter’ and ‘supported,’ I have some suggestions to share that I have found have helped.

Start the Conversation

This is the first and most important point. It might be up to you to take this first step but it can make all the difference to someone who is struggling. Try asking how they really are or what is happening in their world at the moment.

Make Yourself Available

Now I know that it is not always possible to make yourself physically available, but letting someone know that you are just a text or phone call away is good too. Sometimes this actually is more helpful to someone having a hard time, as it can feel more accessible than actually meeting up with people. Mental illness can feel like a lonely place to be, so knowing that someone is there to listen can make the world of difference.

Educate Yourself

If you know that it is a specific thing that someone is struggling with, then do some research about it. Just as you might for a physical health problem or illness, look it up and ask questions so that you feel better informed about how they might feel.

Don’t Assume

Leading on from the point made above, being informed is great. However, this doesn’t mean you should assume that they will feel or behave in a certain way. Try not to jump to conclusions or grasp at reasons for why they are in the position they are in.

1in4 mental health anthology

The main thing to remember, is that everyone experiences and feels things differently. There might not always be a ‘reason’ that others can understand. After all, sometimes they don’t even understand it themselves!

Validate Their Feelings

Let them know that it truly is okay, not to be okay. From experience, when I have been struggling with my mental health, I will often feel that I need to provide an explanation for why I am feeling the way that I am. It can make it harder when I feel like this explanation is not adequate. My brain tells me ‘so many people have it worse’, and starts making me feel like I am not entitled to feel the way I do. The thing is, EVERYONE is entitled to struggle from time to time, it is what makes us human.

Remind them to allow those feelings their space and try to accept how they tell you they feel at face value.

Don’t Take It All On Yourself

Try not to let yourself get weighed down with the weight of helping. Encourage them to seek help elsewhere as well if they feel able to, and make sure you take your own advice and look after yourself too.

Much love, Ellyse x

Reproduced with permission, originally posted here: Mental Health Support

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