Here's what to do if you're worried about someone's mental health
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It’s important to remember that everyone has mental health, exactly the same as everyone has physical health and no one is expecting you to be a doctor (unless you’re studying medicine).
So if you have found yourself in a position of support with a friend, family member, flatmate or colleague, this article will help guide you in the right direction.
The mental health matrix
Mental health is a spectrum and shouldn’t be thought of as black and white. If someone has been diagnosed with a mental health condition, that does not mean their mental health is always poor. Similarly, someone without a diagnosed mental health condition can experience symptoms of mental illness.
What is important is that you take each person as an individual and try to understand what it might feel like for them, rather than trying to diagnose them.
Listening not “fixing”
The most important tool for helping someone with poor mental health is listening. Whenever someone comes to you with a problem, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to quickly find a way to make everything better.
Though this is done with all the best intentions, it isn’t always the most helpful approach. Sometimes all we need is to feel heard, understood and included. If someone is struggling with poor mental health, there may not be a quick fix and you shouldn’t pressure yourself, or them, into finding one.
Take a step back, listen fully and non judgmentally, then create a plan of action for the next week, month or even year.
The thing with mental health is that it doesn’t always feel easy to ask someone if they’re okay, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. More than 15,000 UK-based first-year students disclosed that they had mental health issues in 2015-16, compared to only 3,000 in 2006, according to the IPPR. This could mean that poor mental health is on the rise, or that more people are feeling able to talk about it. Either way, being direct about concerns could empower someone to talk.
If you’re not sure how to bring up the subject of mental health, but you are concerned about the way someone is feeling, just ask!
There's nothing wrong with asking someone how they are really feeling, if they would like some support, or if they have had suicidal thoughts. Whatever their answer, don’t minimise their feelings, simply accept what they say, keep them safe in the first instance, then make a plan to talk again.
You don’t have to have all the answers, but you can give yourself the best ability to support by doing some research. There are plenty of online resources to help you understand what someone is going through, as well as directing you to agencies that can help the person you’re worried about.
Suggest going with them to see their GP for a referral, check your University website to see what support they can provide, or look for local charities that could give more specialised support. The more information you have at hand, the better.
Look after yourself
The only way you can productively help someone with poor mental health is to make sure you’re looking after yourself too. Don’t try to take sole responsibility for someone else’s well-being and make sure to speak to someone yourself if you start to feel the pressure. It’s important to know your boundaries and understand that all you can do is try your best.
If you’re reading this article, you’re already potentially helping someone in the future!
For suicide prevention training follow the link here.
If you are concerned about your own mental health, contact the Samaritans.