Mental health in general is a disease that plagues most of us at some point in our lives, but it isn’t contagious so it’s not talked about as a plague, or even talked about at all. There is a lot of stigma around mental health, and that means no one wants to ‘incriminate’ themselves by discussing it, and sometimes you are so frightened about how it will be received that you think it’s better to not talk about it at all. Today I am writing not about mental health diseases from a personal perspective, but how to handle it if someone comes to you and confesses that they are suffering and need your support. So have a look at the do’s and don’t’s of responding to someone who has come to you for support:
DO react naturally, if you are surprised by the fact your friend/ lover/ family member has said they are suffering, then you don’t have to suppress this reaction. If you thought you might know something was wrong, then let them know you had noticed a change in their behaviour recently.
DO sympathise with them, tell them how sorry you are that they are going through such a tough period in their life.
DO let them know that you are there for them, no matter what, whatever they need you will be there to help them. (And please stick to this! If you know you won’t be there for them then don’t tell them you will be)
DO tell them whether you have had experience of this type of mental illness before, whether supporting another person, or experiencing it yourself. But don’t assume that because you have been through this before, it will be the same. Everyone is different, everyone needs different things and copes in different ways.
DO be patient with them, they may not want to tell you everyone all at once. Don’t try to force them to open up to you, they don’t owe you an explanation, and they may just be working through it themselves and may not understand everything themselves.
DO give them time, space and understanding. Now that you know, keep in mind that they may be having a bad day, they may pick a fight for no reason or just want to be on their own. Let them know you care and you’re here for them when they’re ready.
DO keep the information private, it is not your duty to tell their parents, lover or other friends. They trusted you with this information, do not break that trust. Under no circumstances. The only instance that it is okay to tell anyone is to tell a doctor if they have become a danger to themselves or others around them.
DO encourage them to talk about their feelings with you regularly, and encourage them to seek help from a doctor.
DO ask questions, if you don’t understand something they’re saying then ask them what it means, or ask them how you can help with whatever it is. For example if they tell you that they’re feeling anxious about x,y, or z, then ask them how you can help to make the situation easier for them.
DON’T UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE BREAK THEIR TRUST. Do not ever tell someone else about their issues, it is not your duty nor your right to spread this information around.
DON’T tell them that you know how they feel, even if you have had suffered with a similar mental health condition in the past, or known someone who has. Everyone is different, and deals with things in their own way. You may understand how they could be feeling, but don’t tell them you know how they feel. You don’t.
DON’T assume that just because they’re having a bad day, or that they don’t feel like doing something it’s because of their mental health situation. No. No. No. No it’s not, please just don’t jump to that conclusion, let them come to their own conclusion about what it means.
DON’T lie to them. If you’ve said you’ll be there for them whenever they need you, then you better be there the second they need you. Trust is hard to come by, and if you need someone and they aren’t there, it can make EVERYTHING so much harder to deal with and they may never trust you or anyone else again.
DON’T bring up their illness at every chance you get, if they want to talk to you about it, let them make the first move. If you’re worried about them, light-heartedly ask how they are, do not make a big deal out of it.
If you have any more tips about how to approach this situation, leave them in the comments below. If you need help supporting someone with a mental health issue then feel free to contact me and I’m more than happy to offer some advice. Leave any questions you have below, and I’ll have a go at answering them.