What To Say To Someone Struggling With Their Mental Health, According To A Psychologist

By Ranyhyn Laine
13th Oct 2021

a woman sitting on the ground

In Australia, it's estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime and in any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression. These are just a few of the pretty staggering statistics that show that we still have a mighty long way to go to better the overall mental health of all Australians.

Unfortunately, mental health issues don’t just go on behind closed doors—they can have a serious impact on every part of a person’s life, affecting work, education, sleep, appetite, relationships and identities, leaving sufferers feeling down, flat and worthless. If someone you know is struggling with their mental health, there are things you can do to help. We asked Lysn psychologist Noosha Anzab what to do if you suspect someone you know might be struggling. 

Talk To Them

Sounds simple right? Well if it was so easy, wouldn’t we all be talking openly about our struggles, rather than keeping them close to our chest? Exactly. Chatting to someone about mental health concerns isn’t easy for anyone involved—it’s a challenging topic, even for the most talkative person.

So how do you know the right things to say and when to say it? Anzab suggests you start by choosing a time when you are both calm, in a private area and won’t be distracted. Kick off the conversation with something like “I’ve noticed you have been a little flat lately and wanted to check in to see how you are going”. 

Start off with a general approach and slowly try to focus on the issues or symptoms they may be struggling with—definitely don’t rush it. Try not to direct the conversation either—let the person you’re speaking with take the lead in how much they are willing to talk about. And just as important as starting the conversation? Actively listening!

There are plenty of resources out there for people who want to talk to someone about mental health issues or suicide. If you are worried about someone and want to know what to say, check out Conversations Matter for some tips. 

Consider Your Words

Language is powerful—especially when it comes to talking about subjects which are a little heavier than usual. If you want to support someone who’s suffering, be careful about just what words, phrases and even tone of voice you use. Anzab says to particularly avoid using “you” a lot—phrases like “you should just snap out of it” can come across as blaming and be very isolating. Instead opt for phrases like “I’m here to support and encourage you and want to know what I can do to help”. Keep your tone calm, low and don’t rush the conversation—allow silence and processing time.

Offer Your Support

For anyone with mental health concerns, support doesn’t necessarily have to be emotional. Although providing emotional support is a huge part of it, practical support is just as helpful, whether it’s offering to make some meals, run some errands or just make up the bed. For someone battling any mental health concern, it’s often the simple things that require the biggest effort, so be sure to let them know that you’re there to help, whatever that help may look like.

Emotionally, let them know you’re always around to lend an ear when they need someone to talk to. Having strong support networks can be huge in helping someone through any emotional issues. Just knowing they have someone to turn to if they feel like they can no longer cope, having someone listen to them without judgement and backlash, or having company that feels safe and warm can go a long way.

Suggest Other Places To Go For Help

When someone is really struggling emotionally, it can be hard for them to see that there is help available. Their problems might feel overwhelming, as though there is no way out, they may not have any will power or energy left to cope and things might generally seem “foggy”. However, there are many services out there for people suffering depression or other forms of mental illness. Services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue all provide support through free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts. Services like Lysn also provide access to psychologists via phone or video chat which can be accessed from anywhere. Talking to a professional can help provide the support and strategy they need to manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Respond To Emergencies

If you suspect someone is not doing well, might be at risk of hurting themselves or at risk of causing harm to others then it’s time to seek help immediately. Call 000 for emergency situations and always err on the side of caution (it’s better to be safe than sorry). If you sense that something is seriously wrong, take the precaution and call 000 or head for your local hospital’s emergency department.

Look After Yourself

While we all want to help someone who may be struggling, it’s just as important to look after yourself. Emotional support can be incredibly taxing if you’re not also giving yourself some self-care. As Anzab says, not going above your own capacity to support is important and an absolute necessity. Taking care of your mental wellbeing and psychologically distancing yourself so you don’t become absorbed by someone else’s mental health issues is crucial in avoiding burnout. Definitely be empathetic, but also know your limitations and don’t try to fix or take everything on yourself. Being in a balanced frame of mind will allow you to be the pillar of strength and someone to lean on for the person suffering—you can’t be that when you are becoming stressed, anxious or overwhelmed yourself. 

Here's 10 ways to look after your own mental health.

Image credit: Brook Cagle 

Noosha Anzab is a clinical psychotherapist & psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.

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