My TOP TEN list: How to help a family member or friend that might be experiencing mental health issues …
Imagine walking along a long corridor in a derelict building with the doors on either side closed. I believe that helping others and tackling stigma in Mental Health is about opening these doors. We can all play our part in making this happen.
But how best do we go about opening these doors?
Here’s my Top 10 tips list on how to make a difference in MH, how to help end stigma and offer support to friends or family that might be struggling.
1) Start a conversation about mental health – what better way of busting stigma than to talk honestly and openly about mental health?
2) Help someone else seek help – Approximately 1 in 4 of us UK residents will experience a mental health issue in a year. Although it seems like the end of the world, it really isn’t. Help is always at hand, at your local doctors, charity groups, therapy groups, psychologists or psychiatrists. If you worry that a friend or family member is in free-fall, always help them seek help. They don’t have to tackle it on their own, if they want or need your support, be there for them, if you can.
3) Lend an ear – this sounds simple right? But, you’d be amazed at just how many people can’t listen. Sit down and hold space for someone else. The world is a busy place at the best of times and distractions always somehow succeed to push their way right to the forefront of our minds. If you’re worried about a friend or family member – lend them an ear. Listen and take note of exactly what they are telling you.
4) Tell them they are not alone – Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (Mind, Charity). It’s important to reassure your friend/family member that they are never alone, despite how dark and hopeless things may seem at that given moment.
5) Keep social contact – this again might seems obvious, but after that initial conversation about mental health, don’t do the disappearing act by running a mile! Make sure that you can keep social contact with your friend / family member and encourage them to keep sharing openly with you.
6) Share your own experience of MH if you can – Nothing makes us feel less lonely as humans than when a friend shares a similar experience with regards to a certain issue. We can rapidly go from feeling that we’re the only human on the face of the plant to have experienced a certain emotion to feeling that we are one of many. Sharing our own experiences will also encourage your friend/family member to share honest experiences with you.
7) Offer practical help – this could include help to organise paper work, appointment dates and prescriptions. Maybe they’d like a lift somewhere or help with household tasks? Practical help is perhaps one of the most understated kinds of help when it comes to MH. Practical help can often make a HUGE difference to the life of a service user.
8) Look after yourself – when that door opens, you have to be ready for what’s behind it! Paramount to helping any friend or family member through mental health issues is to take good care of you. If you don’t look after your own needs, you are not going to be able to help a friend or family member who might have acute needs.
9) Share your caring role with others – this will help you and your friend / family member. It means you don’t get emotionally overloaded and that you can share the responsibility with a chosen friend. Your friend/family member also has the added bonus of two sources of support.
10) Educate yourself – After that initial conversation – if your friend has a diagnosis, educate yourself about the condition. By no means – don’t start spouting facts and figures about the condition in front of her/him or profess to be a modern day professor about it. Educate yourself quietly about their condition and the side effects, so you can be better informed about how to support them and take appropriate steps when those red flags (relapse flags) might start to show.