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5 ways to support someone struggling with mental health

We all understand that life has its (sometimes tumultuous) ups and downs and its many complexities. For this reason, we’re willing to wager that almost every single one of us has been touched by mental health issues at some point in our lives. Whether a sufferer ourselves, or if we’ve made up part of someone else’s support network – it’s fairly likely that we have all witnessed the roller coaster ride that mental health issues can present.

Though vast in type and severity, mental health struggles are a commonly shared experience, with one in five people experiencing a mental disorder in the past 12 months (AIHW survey, 2020). And, it’s also true that one’s support network can play a vital and positive role in their recovery journey.

But what do we do when someone we love and care about is experiencing a mental health crisis? How do we support someone through what can be an incredibly difficult time – and not just for the sufferer, but for ourselves?

5 tips for supporting someone through a mental health struggle

Here are some important practices and reminders to keep yourself in check when supporting a loved one through a mental health struggle.

1. Don’t get caught up in the saviour complex

Before you get too ahead of yourself, it’s important to check your expectations. Your role in this is not to “fix” your partner, friend, family member or child, but rather to support them. It’s easy to get caught up in a bit of a saviour complex, placing more responsibility on yourself than is realistic. However, this gets dangerous quickly as it essentially sets us up for failure and a lot of frustration. Ultimately, it is up to the individual, and often simply listening and hearing them is all you need to do.

2. Remember, they need to do it for themselves

The other issue with the saviour complex is that it detracts from the individual’s own journey. Change is not something that can be forced externally, it must happen from within, and it is up to the individual to address their own unhelpful thoughts or behaviours. The action of taking responsibility for one’s self is an extremely empowering approach and is the starting point of transformation. When they come out on the other side of their mental health struggle, there needs to be a sense of achievement, and the knowledge that they are stronger and capable of handling any issues that may arise in the future.

3. Don’t put your own needs on hold

So often, we get so caught up in the needs of others that we neglect our own emotions. Down the track, this can be much more of a hindrance than help, where we may find that due to a lack of awareness of our own feelings, we are faced with our own mental health struggle or crisis. It’s important to remember that often the mental health journey is a marathon, not a sprint, and the more we support ourselves through it the better able we are at supporting others.  Don’t put your own needs on hold – keep perspective and remain aware.

4. Educate yourself

While you may have encouraged your loved one to see a psychologist themselves, it can also be a really helpful step in the process for you to do the same. This will not only allow you to educate yourself on the issues they may be facing, but to ensure you’re taking care of your own mental health throughout. Psychologists are happy to facilitate a joint session.

5. Make self care a priority

Along the way, prioritising self care without a sense of guilt will become really important. Not only will it mean that you are not neglecting your own mental health, you will also be modelling this way of being for the person suffering.

How to approach them

It can be difficult to know how to approach someone suffering without feeling like you are nagging or encroaching on sensitive ground. Here are a few ways you can express your support to them:

  • Treat them with respect and dignity
  • Let them know that you care and are there to support them
  • Talk with them about their feelings and experiences along the way
  • Don’t pressure them or avoid them completely
  • Suggest that you go for a walk together
  • Offer practical support, such as cooking meals for them or taking them to their psychologist or GP appointment. What seems obvious to you may not be obvious to someone who is struggling, so letting them know you care and are there for them, and are proud of them can be a wonderful support system. 
  • There is no need to try to diagnose or second guess their feelings.

If they tell you they don’t know what is wrong, believe them. Sometimes our emotions overwhelm us and we honestly can’t explain to others why. Remember that it takes an amazing amount of courage and strength to get up and face the day when you are going through a mental health crisis. It’s great for them to be reminded of how amazing they are! 

If you need help supporting someone you care about through their mental health crisis, contact our team.

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