How To Support Someone Struggling With Their Mental Health, According To A Psychologist

By Ranyhyn Laine
5th Oct 2022

In Australia, 44 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with one in five Aussies experiencing a mental health condition every year. It's clear—we still have a 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 affect every part of a person’s life, including work, study, sleep, appetite, relationships and identities, leaving sufferers feeling down, flat and worthless.

If someone you know is struggling with their mental health (read: how to have the R U OK? conversation), there are things you can do to help. We asked Lysn psychologist Noosha Anzab how to offer support if someone you know is struggling.

Talk To Them

Sounds simple, right? Chatting to someone about mental health concerns isn’t easy for anyone involved—it’s a challenging topic, even for the chattiest among us.

So, how do you know the right things to say, and when to say them? 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, and let them take the lead in how much they are willing to talk about. At this point, active listening is as important as starting the conversation.

There are plenty of resources out there for people who want to talk to someone about mental health issues. 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 that are heavier. If you want to support someone who’s suffering, be careful about 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, “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; practical support is just as helpful, whether it’s offering to make some meals, run some errands or do a load of laundry. For someone managing mental ill-health, 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 judgement-free can go a long way.

Suggest Helpful Resources

When someone is struggling emotionally, it can be hard for them to see that there is help available. However, there are many services out there for people suffering from times of mental ill-health. Services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue provide free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts, and Lysn provides access to psychologists via phone or video chat. 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 emergencies 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 Too

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. 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're also stressed, anxious or overwhelmed.

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

Image credit: Urban List

Noosha Anzab is a clinical psychotherapist and 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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