What should I say? How should I say it? Should I say anything?!
Dealing with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety is bloody hard work. It’s physically and emotionally draining, and we often feel like we are alone in the world and no one understands us. It is also really tricky for our friends and family to know how best to support us when we are having a hard time. Quite often we have family and friends who love us and really want to help, but who feel powerless to do so (or accidentally say something that can make us feel even worse!)
I really struggled with managing depression as I grew up, and it was particularly hard on my mum. My parents are fabulous people who love my socks off, but I understand that it is so difficult for our loved ones to know how to support us too. My mum felt a real sense of guilt related to my depression. After all I was just a little girl, a child. She felt it was her responsibility to keep me happy and healthy so when I started to struggle with mental health the powerlessness was difficult for her to cope with. (She did a great job by the way, long live mum)
Obviously each individual is completely different and will express their feelings in different ways, but I just wanted to put together a few pieces of advice for anyone who is struggling to support a loved one with mental health. Off we go!
- Don’t lose sight of yourself
Firstly, don’t let somebody else’s problems drag you down. I myself have struggled with mental health, but I have also found myself in the position where by trying to support somebody I have let myself get dragged down in the misery pit with them. Offer support, let them know that you’re on hand, but don’t promote a relationship of dependency where you feel you are trapped and overwhelmed what is being asked of you.
Signs to look out for: If somebody threatens to hurt themselves if you don’t see them/call them, GET OUT. This is an abusive relationship/friendship and as much as you care for someone you can never allow someone to manipulate or abuse you. It is important to be there for your loved ones but you can’t make yourself poorly or unhappy by trying too hard to help them. At the end of the day, a person with mental health issues needs to want to help themselves. You can drive them to appointments, make a cup of tea on a sad day… but you should not sacrifice your own well-being in a misguided attempt to FIX somebody. (Secret: you’ll never win that game) They can only ‘fix’ themselves, through medical support and their own internal journey.
- Listen, don’t preach
More than anything, someone who is hurting just wants to know they aren’t alone. Questions you can ask that give a loved one the chance to express themselves include:
How are you feeling?
Is there anything I can do to help?
What do you need in order move forward?
These are helpful questions, and by explaining our feelings to you, we will begin to understand them better ourselves. What we don’t need to hear is.
‘Come on cheer up’
‘Try to think about something else’
At least for me, if someone tries to change the subject or avoid discussing how I feel, I feel silenced. It can be a very lonely feeling and more than anything when I’m sad I just want to know I have an ally.
‘I hear you and I’m sorry that you are sad’ is a perfect and valid response, you don’t have to offer an answer (in fact PLEASE DON’T) just let them know you love them, and you are sorry that it hurts.
- Give reassurance
As I mentioned before, depression is a really lonely feeling. We tend to feel very alone in the world and can’t see our own worth or believe that the people close to us really find value in us. Do not underestimate the power of some verbal reassurance.
‘I love you’
‘You mean so much to me.’
‘You are kind.’
Stating simple and reassuring facts is important. It might seem obvious and that we already know, but when we are feeling worthless it’s really hard to believe that we matter to someone, and hearing it is an important step to healing.
- Know the warning signs
Finally, know the warning signs for suicide. Did you know that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK? (Guardian) It’s really important to look out for signs of mental health problems in friends, colleagues and acquaintances. This NHS article briefly talks you through the warning signs to look out for. It suggests that ‘if you notice any of these warning signs in a friend, relative or loved one, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.’ If you find that prospect overwhelming, you could offer to go with them to a GP appointment or direct them to a support group like The Samaritans.
Please advise anyone who really believes they are at risk of suicide to call 999 (UK), where the handlers are trained to respond appropriately.
If you are feeling depressed and are interested in taking medication, why not check out my blog which explains mental health meds.
Thank you and I hope you found this helpful!