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How to Help a Loved One with a Mental Health Issue

Are you currently concerned about the mental health of a friend or family member?
Whether or not you know much about mental illness, someone in your life has probably experienced mental illness in some form or another. At least 20 percent of adults aged 16-85 are affected by mental illness every year with anxiety disorders being the most common, followed by depression.

You may have been asking yourself, how can I approach someone with depression? Or anxiety? Or someone who has an alcohol or drug problem? Or any other mental illness that is affecting their lives?

At some point in our lives, most of us will be confronted with such a situation and wonder, how do I know if someone is experiencing a mental health problem? And how can I help?

Mental illness is a significant condition that affects mental and physical health. It can be seen in someone’s change in mood, behaviour, energy, habits or personality. Getting help and support from friends and family can make all the difference to how someone affected by mental health issues copes and recovers.

There are a few things you can do to help out your loved one:

  • The first step is to talk about it when you are both relaxed, and keep the conversation flowing about other topics as well. Try to be sensitive, positive and encouraging. Listen intently to what they are saying and empathise rather than sympathise. Let the other person know you are there for them and available to listen.
  • Acknowledge what they are feeling and ask them what you can do to help. You can start off by explaining why you’re concerned and offer examples. Try to use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements e.g. “I’m worried…” or “I’ve noticed…”
  • Offer support by trying small actions such as walking or visiting a friend. Encourage them to get enough sleep, eat well and exercise. Discourage from self-medicating. Of course, they might not feel able to take care of themselves, so offering practical support such as cooking and shopping which will help them out immensely.
  • Don’t get angry if they fall back into bad habits such as eating poorly, self-harming or self-medicating. Although it is worrying, expressing your disappointment and anger could force them to hide they bad habits and behaviours. It is much easier to encourage them to seek help and guidance if they can trust you and confide in you when things get especially tough.
  • Seek the help of a doctor or mental health professional. Offer to make an appointment for them and tag along for comfort and encouragement.
  • Things you can do for yourself include being informed. Read quality, evidence-based information and become familiar with the signs and symptoms of their mental illness.
  • Last but not least, look after yourself. Access support services and be proactive. See a mental health professional for your own mental health. Take the time to look after yourself and check in when you’re feeling stressed or run down.