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How to Support Someone with a Mental Health Problem – Mental Health Day 2021

1 in 6 people experienced a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression in the past week.

We’ve all been worried about someone’s mental health. Whether they’re a friend, family member or colleague, there are many ways to support somebody you care about.

Unfortunately, 75%-95% of people with mental health issues in low to middle income countries are unable to access mental health services at all. It is vital to fight for change on a legal level to increase accessibility for these vital life-saving services, but until this systemic change occurs, we can offer some advice for those who are struggling.

How do I know if someone has a mental health problem? – Mental Health Day 2021

Although certain symptoms are common with specific mental health problems, no two people behave in the same way when they’re unwell. If you know the person well, you may notice changes in their behaviour or mood.

Below are some signs of common mental health problems:

Signs of depression

People who are depressed may:

  • have low confidence 
  • lose interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • lose their appetite
  • get tired regularly
  • be tearful, nervous or irritable

At worst they may feel suicidal.

Signs of anxiety

People experiencing anxiety may:

  • have difficulty concentrating
  • be irritable
  • try to avoid certain situations
  • appear pale and tense
  • be easily startled by everyday sounds

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are usually a sign of anxiety. Someone having a panic attack experiences a sudden and intense sensation of fear. They may breathe rapidly, sweat, feel very hot or cold, feel sick or feel faint.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD is a common form of anxiety involving distressing repetitive thoughts. Compulsions are the actions which people feel they must repeat to feel less anxious or stop their obsessive thoughts.

Talk about mental health

If you’re worried about someone it can be difficult to know what to do. When you are aware there is an issue, it is important not to wait. Waiting and hoping they will come to you for help might lose valuable time in getting them support.

Talking to someone is often the first step to take when you know they are going through a hard time. This way you can find out what is troubling them and what you can do to help.

Mental Health Day

Eight tips for talking about mental health

1. Set time aside with no distractions

It is important to provide an open and non-judgemental space with no distractions.

2. Let them share as much or as little as they want to

Let them lead the discussion at their own pace. Don’t put pressure on them to tell you anything they aren’t ready to talk about. Talking can take a lot of trust and courage. You might be the first person they have been able to talk to about this.

3. Don’t try to diagnose or second guess their feelings

You probably aren’t a medical expert and, while you may be happy to talk and offer support, you aren’t a trained counsellor. Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your own diagnosis or solutions.

4. Keep questions open-ended

Say “Why don’t you tell me how you are feeling?” rather than “I can see you are feeling very low”. Try to keep your language neutral. Give the person time to answer and try not to grill them with too many questions.

5. Talk about wellbeing

Exercise, having a healthy diet and taking a break can help protect mental health and sustain wellbeing. Talk about ways of de-stressing and ask if they find anything helpful.

6. Listen carefully to what they tell you

Repeat what they have said back to them to ensure you have understood it. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but by showing you understand how they feel, you are letting them know you respect their feelings.

7. Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this

You might want to offer to go the GP with them, or help them talk to a friend or family member. Try not to take control and allow them to make decisions.

8. Know your limits

Ask for help or signpost if the problem is serious. If you believe they are in immediate danger or they have injuries that need medical attention, you need to take action to make sure they are safe. More details on dealing in a crisis can be found below.

If it is a family member or close friend you are concerned about, they might not want to talk to you. Try not to take this personally: talking to someone you love can be difficult as they might be worried they are hurting you. It is important to keep being open and honest and telling them that you care. It may also be helpful to give them information on organisations or people they can reach out to.

The importance of mental health awareness during the Covid-19 outbreak and beyond

The Covid-19 pandemic has been rough on everyone. Socially distancing, self-isolating and living in fear of a deadly virus has led to a vast increase in mental health issues worldwide.

Now that it is clear mental health problems can affect anyone at any time, it is more important than ever that we have open conversations about this topic without judgement or shame. Identifying and discussing our mental health problems is the first step for vulnerable people to get the help they need.

If someone tells you they are feeling suicidal or can’t go on, or if you suspect they are thinking of taking their own life, it is very important to encourage them to get help. You or they should contact a GP or NHS 111. If they would prefer something more private, they can text “SHOUT” to 85258, a crisis hotline that provides 24/7 support for urgent assistance. They could also get help from their friends, family, or mental health services.

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