How To Support A Friend Who’s Struggling With Their Mental Health
Depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders are all conditions that someone in your life could be dealing with. Not all mental health challenges and illnesses look the same, so while mental health issues shouldn’t be ignored, it might take time to figure out how best to respond to a friend or a loved one who is struggling.
Nor are you a stand-in for a licensed therapist or counsellor. But if you want to hear them out as a friend or as a loved one, here’s how you can help support someone struggling with mental health:
1. Listen and validate
People need to feel heard, especially when they are struggling with difficult, negative emotions that might make them feel alone. Ask what your friend is struggling with and how it’s impacting them. Just having someone listen to them non-judgmentally and validate their feelings goes a long way in supporting them, and to help them feel heard and accepted just as they are. Listening empathetically can also help reinforce that they aren’t overreacting and that what they are feeling isn’t ‘just in their head’. Listen and let them express their thoughts freely; or just do something fun together without serious conversation. Try to be caring and compassionate, making sure they understand that they matter to you.
2. Ask what you can do to help
Check up on your friend regularly – it shows you care and encourages your friend that help is available when they need it. Support looks different for everyone, and what one person may need when you’re struggling may not be what someone else needs. Often people who struggle with their mental health can find it incredibly difficult to make basic decisions or perform even seemingly small chores so offer to help with everyday tasks. Instead of using the generic phrase “I’m here if you need me,” offer to do something specific such as vacuuming, doing groceries or even doing and folding laundry.
3. Celebrate their wins and successes
When a person is struggling with mental health, everything can seem like a challenge, so having someone cheer them on their accomplishments and victories (however small and insignificant they seem to you), can make a huge difference to their confidence and self-esteem. It’s also hard for people with mental health issues to recognise and acknowledge their own progress and achievements. Celebrate by doing something fun together that your friend would enjoy, rather than make the interaction about trying to help with their mental health issue.
4. Improve your knowledge on mental health
Take the time to educate yourself on learning more about mental health issues such as depression, panic attacks or anxiety, so that you’re better able to help and understand what your friend might be experiencing. It will also be easier to be more aware of any risky behavior or symptoms in case you need to get your friend professional help.
5. Take their feelings seriously
Different people experience and manifest health issues differently, so resist the temptation to generalise what your friend might be going through and make it seem trivial by comparing their experience to others. Removing the stigma around mental health and talking about it openly is very important so that your friend can feel supported and safe opening up to you, rather than feel judged. If someone is living with a mental health concern, it isn’t possible for them just to ‘snap out of it’. Acknowledge that what's happening must be difficult to handle, and be supportive and encouraging, rather than treating your friend as though they are someone that has something broken that needs to be fixed.
6. Seek professional help
Sometimes you might not be in a position to help someone with their mental health and might have to get them to seek professional help. Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) provides a whole range of services including everything from counselling, creative and rehabilitation services, to outreach activities, skills training and job opportunities. If it’s not possible to accompany your friend to a doctor or polyclinic, call for SAMH’s Mobile Support Team at 8511 2678 for them to come home and assess the case personally.