When someone you care about lives with a mental health condition, you may feel unsure how to best provide support. Sometimes, it’s not easy to tell if someone is experiencing a mental health problem. And even if you’re confident about the condition, it’s often difficult to have a conversation. Knowing how to respond sensitively and with the right level of support can be incredibly helpful to someone with a mental health condition. Here are some ideas for helping you support a loved one.
Specific ways to support someone with a mental health condition
If you have a friend, relative, or colleague with a mental health problem, there are several ways you can offer support. When you notice someone struggling, it is important not to wait for them to come to you for help. Take the initiative to start a conversation and find out what is troubling them. Here are some tips to consider when talking about mental health:
- Learn before speaking: When possible, especially when you’re certain your loved one struggles with a mental health condition, try to take some time to educate yourself about their condition. It’s important to read about how a diagnosis happens, what the symptoms are, and what treatments are suggested. Having a general understanding will help you better empathize with their experiences.
- Focus on them: Too many times, we sit down to have a conversation, and we set our phone next to us with notifications blaring and distractions rampant. To really be supportive of a friend or loved one, create a place and time where the phone is on silent and the only subject is your loved one. That will make your friend more likely to have an open conversation.
- Don’t stop the conversation: If you truly care about your loved one, it’s important that you don’t enter a conversation with a stopwatch. Be present for your friend and don’t force the pace or the subject matter of the conversation. This is all about being a good listener. There are plenty of studies and research that show listening is key in supporting someone with a mental health condition.
- Don’t ask closed questions: You’ve heard about “yes” or “no” questions and how they’re conversation killers. The same is true when talking to a loved one about a mental health condition. Work hard to ask open-ended questions. One good tip is to start questions with “why.” Using that word will allow your friend to dive into the reason for something. You can also ask “how” questions. For example: “How do you feel today?” is so much better than “Do you feel bad today?”
- You didn’t go to medical school: It’s important that you don’t try to diagnose your loved one’s mental health condition. Unless you’re a trained doctor, leave the medical treatment to the professionals. However, when you have a time or opportunity, encourage your friend to seek and accept the opinions of medical professionals. Getting your friend the proper help can be the best support you could ever offer.
Of all the ways you can support someone with a mental health condition, what’s most important is that you don’t avoid the situation. Be someone who tries to understand, set aside uninterrupted time, listen carefully while asking good questions, and push your loved ones to seek out advice from professionals.