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10 Ways to Help a Loved One Expressing a Mental Health Struggle

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I have lost track of the number of times I have been told by people to “just think positively,” or “don’t be anxious, there is nothing to feel anxious about.” Each time this is said to me, I am screaming on the inside: “Well, thank you for that. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of these solutions before. I mean, honestly; years of having these feelings and not once have I thought to try the technique of ‘positive thinking.’ Next, you are going to tell me to try a coloring book.”

(Side note: Coloring books are great for some people. Me? Not so much).

If you have never felt depressed or anxious, you might think I am being dramatic. A lot of people think that mental illness is a “state of mind,” and to get out of this state the best thing to do is, “just get over it, move on, be positive, harden up.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I don’t think we can really blame people for having this opinion. This has been the wider view of society for generations now. Forty years ago, the chance of having an open and honest conversation about one’s feelings or problems was unheard of. Slowly but surely, this is changing.

The topic of mental health is hard to tackle for well-informed people, let alone someone that has never experienced these feelings, thoughts and battles before. So, what is thing right thing to do or say when someone is expressing their struggles?

Here are some to-dos and what not-to-dos…

1. Do not say “everything happens for a reason.”

I am a massive believer in this, but when someone is in the depths of a mental health crisis, telling them this is like a slap in the face.

2. Help them set small, manageable goals.

Going to the gym at 5:30 in the morning is not a manageable goal. Getting out of bed for an hour is.

3. Offer to take them places.

When I was super depressed (understatement of the year), showering was an effort, let alone getting out of the house. If your loved one needs to go somewhere (doctors, psychologist, the grocery store), offer to take them. Keeping human connection is so bloody important.

4. Give them space.

There is a fine line between being there for someone and them feeling like they are being babysat. Try your best to work out what that line is. For me, it was having someone in the house but not in the same room all the time.

5. Don’t ask questions like, “how are you feeling?”

Often the person can’t that work out in their own head, let alone voice out loud an actual human emotion. Try saying something like: “From one to 10, where are you at today?”

6. Don’t tell them to be grateful.

Saying things such as, “just be grateful for what you have,” is so infuriating. If being grateful could fix mental illness, it would have by now.

7. Admit when you aren’t sure how to help them.

“I don’t really know what to do, I think we should make a doctor’s appointment.” Most of the time, they won’t want to go; they will think this feeling is all in their head and they are being “stupid.” Reassure them it isn’t and you will be there for them every step of the way.

8. Silence is your friend.

Filling the silence is not always necessary. Sometimes just sitting next to the person is all they need. When you feel like speaking, saying something like “I love you” or “I am here for you” or “I believe in you” is really all someone needs to hear.

9. Work out a code.

Mum and I send each other emojis. Sunflower is code for “OK.” Thumbs down is “not so OK.” It’s simple and not invasive; you can go from there.

10. Offer to exercise with them.

Exercise is the most underrated form of therapy, in my opinion. I don’t mean joining a boot camp or hiking a mountain. I mean walking around the block, or down the beach. Any form of movement is a positive one.

These are things that have helped and continue to help me. I hope they help your loved one too.

Photo by Briana Tozour on Unsplash

Originally published: August 30, 2018
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