Supporting your family, friends and colleagues can play an important on their wellbeing and recovery.
It can be very difficult to see someone who you care about becoming unwell or struggling with something in their life i.e. Divorce, Domestic Abuse, a medical diagnosis etc. The important thing to remember is you do not need to be an expert in what they are going through to offer your support, often small, everyday actions can make the biggest difference.
Think of a time when you were going through a tough time, remember the people who were there for you during the times you needed them. Most people will say it was our friends and family that played the biggest part in our recovery with some additional support by the professionals. With this n mind, we have put together some ideas on how you can support someone you care about in their time of need.
If you know someone has been unwell, don’t be afraid to ask how they are. Sometime the person is just waiting for someone to ask them as they may not have the courage to speak up. Chose a moment away from others, maybe an informal walk or coffee just to ask how they are. They might want to talk about it, or they might not but by talking to them, they will know that they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is important.
Actively listening to them, giving them your sole attention to just talk is important. Try leaving questions until they have finished talking. Spend time with your loved one lets them know you care, and can help you understand what they’re going through.
Some useful conversations starters could be:
Recently I have noticed that you (mention some things you have notices ie withdrawn, crying, struggling) and I wanted to see what how I can help. What can I do to be there for you, and help you feel supported?
How are you? You don’t seem like yourself, and I want to know how you’re really feeling because I care about you. Can you tell me more about how you are feeling?
I’ve been worried about you recently. Can we talk about what you are experiencing?
It sounds as though things are really hard at the moment…. Can you tell me a bit more?
I am someone who cares and wants to listen. What do you want me to know about how you are feeling?
It seems like you are going through a difficult time. How can I help you to find help?
It’s important to recognise everyone will want support at different times and in different ways. Think of a time where you personally felt like you were not being listened to or your request was ignored- it could make you feel frustrated, hurt, and angry or you were not in control, so ask them –“How can I help you?”
It might be support them at a doctor’s appointment, or some social time together exercising, cinema or helping them get professional support.
Try to be non-judgmental when you are listening, you may hear somethings that could be upsetting or you don’t agree with but it’s that person’s reality and they need to feel safe talking. Phrases like “cheer up”, “what you got to moan about “, “I’m sure it’ll pass” and “pull yourself together” definitely don’t help. Listen to their worries as understand the reasons why they are struggling. It may not make sense to you, or seem like a small problem but to them its serious and impacting their health.
Trust and respect between you and the person you are supporting is very important, it allows them to feel safe and builds a safe environment for them to open up and talk about things that are happening. It also will improve and maintain a sense of self-esteem, which can be seriously damaged by our mental health. Seeing someone’s self-esteem grow can also help you to cope a bit better as you can see the positive impact on the person you care about.
Someone experiencing a mental health problem often knows what works for them. Remember there is more to the person who you’re supporting than just their mental health or current situation. Your relationships still work in many ways like before, so keep talking about the things you’ve always talked about together.
Supporting someone else can sometimes be stressful. Making sure that you look after your own wellbeing can mean that you have the energy, time and distance you need to be able to help. There’s no right or wrong way to look after yourself. After all – we’re all different but here are some things you may wish to think about:
Set boundaries and don’t take too much on – Let the person know what the boundaries are and when you are available.
Share your caring role with others – If you can it’s often easier to support someone if you’re not doing it alone. You may be able to get support from friends, family or other colleagues to help provide a support circle for the person in need.
Talk to someone about how you’re feeling – You may want to be careful about how much information you share about the person you’re supporting, but talking about your own feelings with someone you trust can help you feel supported too.
Look after yourself physically – Eat well and exercise. Often when we are busy, we take shortcuts with our meals and don’t make the time to exercise, but it’s so important during times of stress to pay close attention to your physical health. It is not selfish to take time to look after yourself – it is essential.
Set a sleep routine – To be an effective supporter for them, you need to ensure you get plenty of sleep. If sleeping has become a problem speak to your GP for help. Your doctor can offer advice and guidance regarding sleeping problems; they can also offer medication on a short term basis if necessary.
It is important that where possible you need to help them seek professional support. You are not their doctor, counsellor, nurse, teacher or mental health professional. You cannot fix all their problems and there are limits to what you can do. While there are many things you can do to help, doing your best to empower someone to help themselves is far better in the long run. They may need you to support them to the appointments,
You may be entitled to social care support from your Local Authority to help you care for your friend or family member. You can contact them directly and ask for an assessment and it may help you.