Concerned About Someone’s Mental Health? Here’s How You Can Help
There will always be instances in life where someone we know or love is going through a tough time. Perhaps they suffered a personal loss such as a death in the family or being laid off from work. In many cases, people can successfully get through the dark days. Yet, if they potentially have an underlying mental health condition, it could turn into something very concerning.
How can you help such an individual navigate what they’re going through, in a safe and caring manner? Being authentic is one of the best ways to go about helping a friend in need according to Dr. Raunak Khisty, Riverside Psychiatric Specialists.
“There are times that we get inside our heads too much about the perfect way to approach someone. If you have a relationship with that person, approach them as you would a friend and just say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? I’ve noticed lately you appear to be down or you’ve been canceling a lot. Is there something you want to talk about? Is there any way I can support you?’”
Individuals will not always respond with honesty and transparency. They might try to blow off the conversation and assure you they are “fine.” In this case, it may be a good idea to enlist friends and family members to build a network of support.
If the person is someone you know but aren’t that close with, for example a colleague, you can still gently bring up the topic. Or, if you feel uncomfortable doing so, perhaps turn to a supervisor or human resources to voice your concerns.
What to Do If Someone Opens Up
If someone does open up to you about struggling with their mental health, the best way to welcome that conversation is with empathy. Be aware of physical cues like maintaining eye contact and an open body posture (as opposed to crossing one’s arms). And make sure you have ample time to sit with the person while they share what’s going on.
Empathy can provide validation. It’s being there. You never know what someone is going to open up about and you do not want to be pressed for time and end the conversation midway through, especially if it’s a heavy conversation.
“A good approach is to ask how, specifically, you can be supportive,” says Dr. Khisty. “This might be as simple as going on regular walks or coffee dates with the person. The best way to engage with that person on how to be supportive is to ask them what they find supportive.”
There are also something that you should avoid when talking to someone about their mental health, such as making comparisons to their situation with your own or interrupting when they are already in a vulnerable position. Try to avoid commenting on someone’s physical attributes as well (baggy eyes, weight gain/loss, disheveled appearance, etc.).
Normalizing Mental Health
As a society, we are making strides in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. Still, individuals can make changes in their own lives to help move this effort forward. Even if you don’t have anyone in your life who is dealing with mental health concerns, it’s helpful to talk about why mental health is so important among family and friends.