May is International Mental Health Awareness Month, and I thought in honor of this, it would be appropriate to address practical ways for all of us to support someone who is personally impacted by mental health challenges. As the title suggests, this week’s article is about ways to support someone with a mental illness – someone we care about.
These challenges or disorders can include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. This post is meant to also support those who struggle with mental health challenges themselves and want to let others know how to care. Mental health touches all of our lives, whether personally or in the life of someone we care about.
Today, let’s learn what we can do to care using practical tips and steps.
For the purposes of this blog post, I’ve decided to condense my top tips into a list (in no particular order).
If you know someone struggling with mental health, whether it’s a disorder, or they have been experiencing trauma, grief, or bereavement due to violence, loss by death, or are impacted by mental health yourself, this post is for you!
We stand in solidarity with you and we hope that this article is instrumental in helping you gain insight into how you can help yourself or help others who are impacted by mental health challenges so they can become resilient.
Without further ado, here are the tips!
Be present and listen.
One of the most important things you can do for someone who is struggling with their mental health is letting them know that you are present with them and being there to listen. Give your full attention and be there for them.
You don’t need the right words to say. All you need is to be present and empathetic.
Educate yourself. Understand what it is they’re going through.
If it’s depression, social anxiety, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, bereavement/grief, etc., read up on it from reliable sources as much as you can. If it is yourself who is going through the mental health challenge, it is so important for you to understand what it is you’re experiencing, so that you know how you can cope and overcome challenges.
If you know someone with mental health challenges, seeking to understand by educating yourself shows to the person that you care. Educate yourself as much as you can about their specific mental health experience.
If you want to really educate yourself, get mental health first aid certified.
Ask them if there is anything that you can do to help.
Whether it’s going with them to see a counselor, joining them to run errands because they’re anxious to go out by themselves or just need the company, or heading over to their place for a movie night to keep them company, there is always something that you can do to help. Of course, though, don’t impose it on them.
Do an action of kindness to show the person that you care.
Acts of kindness/gifts such as dropping off a care package, a blanket, a homemade soup, etc. can mean a lot to someone who is going through mental health struggles. Sometimes, a pick-me-up is just what they need.
They may feel lonely and isolated in how they feel. Showing you care by showing up with something physical and useful (like homemade soup) to comfort them is a tangible way to show that you care and love them.
My best friend once made me a handmade candle and a stress-relief kit. It was so cute and it definitely brought a smile to my face – plus, it was a practical and useful gift that I used to create a calming environment for myself.
Challenge problematic and negative thinking.
How do we do that? Over here at TPP, we do our best to rewire our problematic thinking and in turn, reverse the effects of it in our life. This is most common for those with chronic anxiety, but this is also applicable for those with depression, or those experiencing vicarious stress caring for someone with mental illness.
We wrote a post recently about just how to reverse the effects of anxiety – read all about it here.
This is a must-read for the folks out here that struggle with chronic anxiety or have friends who struggle with anxiety.
Reassure them that you love them and that it will be OK.
Some days are really hard. Bad days can be brutal. Comfort your loved one as much as you can.
Help your loved one process what they’re feeling.
If your friend/family member/colleague is willing to go to see a therapist, offer to go with them for support.
With permission, I will share about one of my own experiences helping a friend with depression/OCD.
I have a friend who has been going to counseling for the past two years and she began to attend weekly sessions.
She says that ever since she’s been seeing a counselor consistently, she feels like a weight is lifted off her shoulders because the counselor and her are able to unpack her experiences and help her process what’s going on, which has been instrumental for her to move on from bad experiences, inner negative voice, and gain resiliency in her life.
She deals with pretty severe depression, and going to a counselor has helped her overcome tendencies to self-harm, and instead, she has found healthy outlets and better ways of transforming her inner pain/angst into healing.
Validate how they are feeling – it establishes trust.
This is important for those who are struggling with anxiety, or depression. Even if what they’re feeling seems irrational to you, it is not at all helpful to say to them, “It’s all in your head,” or “Get over it,” or “That’s a silly fear/thought,” — Acknowledge what the person is feeling as real (distressed, anxious, compulsive, whatever).
Once the feeling is acknowledged, that is when you can help them challenge any negative beliefs or incorrect ways of thinking – but first, you must acknowledge that their feelings/thoughts are a valid experience for the sake of trust.
I mean, think about it: How would you feel if you told someone, “I had a terrible mental health day,” and they said, “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad. You’re just exaggerating!” Maybe it really isn’t as bad as you think but that comment isn’t at all considerate or kind or validating, now is it? In fact, if someone said that to you, the trust would definitely be broken.
In order to establish trust with your loved one, validate how they are feeling.
If you practice any faith, pray or ask for prayer.
This one might be controversial, however, as faith is important to me, I will mention this (in fact, it is because of my faith that I find hope and joy in everyday circumstances, even when I am having a terrible mental health day).
If you are of any faith, pray for yourself and ask others to pray for you. And if you are supporting someone going through mental health challenges, pray for them. Regardless if someone is religious, or not religious at all, people are often comforted to know that they are in the thoughts of another person who has good intentions for them.
Reach out for support and resources in mental health.
There are professionals out there who are equipped and trained in clinical counseling who are specifically trained to take on different cases. If you find yourself needing support, it is okay to seek it out. It’s OK to not be OK.
If you feel you cannot support your friend/family member/colleague on your own, say they are having suicidal or violent ideations, it may be time to seek out professional mental health aid. Do your research & use your resources.
Encourage them that it’s okay to seek out and accept help – it is not a sign of weakness or “craziness”. Sometimes, when we are not equipped to help, or if we are struggling with our own things, we may do more damage than good. Counseling and group therapy is incredibly therapeutic for the person to be able to talk and process in a safe space.
Stay calm and convey hope.
There have been several times over the past couple years when I supported a couple close friends having panic attacks.
During these times, it’s so crucial that you remain calm for the sake of your friend, even if you are scared. It helps ground the person experiencing the mental health struggle back to a sense of normalcy.
Recognize their courage and encourage them.
Every day can be difficult for someone who is experiencing mental health challenges. I have a friend who struggles with severe depression, and sometimes, she has great days; other days, she can’t get out of bed.
For the person you love with a mental health illness, affirm them that they are doing their best and that you believe in them. Recognizing their courage enables them to believe in themselves.
One of my favourite blogs to read is Mental Health On The Mighty. I found them through a Reddit forum.
Make sure you take care of yourself.
Finally, take care of yourself as well. Sometimes, we may experience vicarious trauma from other people’s experiences.
Make sure you take time to process, reflect. As someone who has an educational background in Child & Youth work, the mantra of our community healthcare field always tells us that we have to take care of ourselves.
Self-care, self-care, self-care – so you can care for others well.
Want to know some of our best techniques?
You might like this article: 18 Ways to Relax and Unwind Now
Together, let’s bring about awareness & education on this very important issue.
Make sure you share our article on Pinterest, Facebook, and anywhere else in the cyberspace, if you find this article helpful, because it would mean a lot to us and be instrumental for others to give it a read!
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My encouragement to you is to go forth into this world and be a beacon of kindness and compassion to those who are hurting or struggling. And if you are impacted by mental health, my thoughts and prayers go out to you.
Sending you all a virtual hug and hand-squeeze.
Did you find these tips useful?
What will you do this week to show support and solidarity in honour of Mental Health Awareness Month? Comment below and let me know – I’d love to engage with you more on this important topic that touches all of our lives.
Love & light,