After previously writing about things people say which can be harmful to those struggling with their mental health, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at what people could say to someone that would be received more positively and actually helps them.
Everyone is different, and while some people receive help from others with open arms, others may be less willing to listen to support and suggestions. Therefore it is essential to do what works for the specific person in question. You are likely to be able to judge the response that you will get from the person through knowing them and their personality.
Here are seven tips and ideas to get started:
1. “I’m always here for you if you want to talk about it or if you just need someone to listen.”
Oftentimes, when somebody is struggling with their mental health, they need someone who is willing to listen to them rather than talk. Being bombarded with advice and suggestions can sometimes be overwhelming, but being encouraged to talk and share feelings can make someone feel more comfortable sharing and feel acknowledged and cared about.
2. “How can I recognise when you are ___ and what is the best way to help you?”
By asking someone how to recognise their symptoms and warning signs, this firstly shows that you are taking an interest in their struggles and shows someone that you are there for them and willing to support them through it. It is extremely important to listen to how someone best likes to be supported, as support is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Everyone responds better to different coping strategies and methods of support and distraction—this is something that is personal. Learning about how to support someone appropriately will make someone feel more comfortable being around you and turning to you.
3. “I care about you. You are important.”
When someone is trying to manage their mental health, it can feel extremely isolating. Reminding someone that you are there for them and that you care about them can make the world feel slightly less lonely and daunting. It can help to remind them that they don’t have to face everything alone.
4. “Your feelings are valid. It’s okay to feel like this.”
More often than not, someone can feel stupid or embarrassed about having a mental health problem. For example, with anxiety, someone could feel extremely anxious about something relatively small and that somebody else might not find anxiety-provoking. Validating their feelings can take away the negativity they may be experiencing and help them to realise that what they are going through is not embarrassing. Validation takes away the element of judgment they may be feeling and can essentially make someone feel more confident in expressing their feelings to you comfortably. This can, in turn, increase levels of trust and acceptance of your support.
5. “You managed that well. You got through that by yourself—that’s amazing.”
This can be a difficult one to get right. Although you may want to dive in with all of the cliché sayings you can think of like: there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but this is unlikely to be overly helpful. The best way to be positive is to acknowledge positivity in their coping skills and management of their issues. For example, if your friend has had a panic attack and has managed it well and used the techniques they have learned to do this, it can be supportive to show your positivity.
There’s a fine line between what people may receive as being supportive and what someone may perceive as patronizing. However, this has to be a judgment call of the relationship between you and the person and what works for you guys.
6. “How are you feeling? What can I do to help?”
Although you don’t want to overwhelm people by asking them a million questions, rather than asking someone a simple “Are you okay?” which is a leading question, try to use open questions. This allows for a more in-depth conversation and shows that you are willing to listen and to take the time to help someone.
7. “Take your time.”
Managing your mental health comes with the frustrating realization that things are not going to magically get better overnight, and it is something that you have to work on and cope with for a long time. Sometimes this can be overwhelming. It can be extremely helpful to remind someone to stop and take a breath—and to take their time. Without coming across in a condescending manner, sometimes people forget that mental health is a journey, and you need to take it slowly.
Remember, we don’t always get it right with how we try to support others and the things we say. But of course, the main thing is that you are trying to be supportive and trying to be a good friend, family member, neighbour, or colleague.
People will appreciate the fact that there are good intentions behind what you say, and if you mess up—own it.
Apologize for what you have said and try to move past it—or better yet, just ask them. The best way of learning how to support someone best is by asking them.