I think it’s important to switch perspectives sometimes, as I write from the perspective of a mental health sufferer. I’ve written a lot about how to cope with your own anxieties, but how can you help with someone else’s?
These are a few tips I’ve put together to help you help someone with a mental health disorder, all based on my own experiences, and those of my family and close friends.
- You are not expected to understand how it feels, because you can’t, if you’ve never experienced it yourself. So don’t try to relate, just listen.
- Listen, and don’t try to solve, as much as you’d love to, you can’t take the issue away. Listen (and not just wait to answer) actually listen to what they have to say, and offer understanding that shows them they are perfectly rational to feel as they do, they can’t help it, so don’t make them feel guilty for it. Trying to solve the problem can make the person feel they are not in control. Which brings me onto my next one…
- Reassure them, although it may be tedious, people with a mental health disorder, particularly those revolving around anxiety, may need more reassurance than most people. As said in no.2, the worst thing for the person suffering is to feel judged.
- Encourage them to continue the tasks that they associate as anxiety or panic inducing (this may have to start with small steps), sometimes the worst thing is to continue with resistance behaviour, as the issue will persist.
- Don’t pressure you could encourage by saying something like “how do you feel about meeting up for lunch today?” and suggest somewhere nearby, open spaced to avoid the person feeling trapped or overwhelmed.
- Don’t take it personally although it’s difficult, the person may cancel plans constantly, ask for reassurance a lot, or seem on edge when they’re around you. It’s not personal, they could be battling with a million thoughts, or feel completely numb. Try to meet them on their level, offer to come to them and be clear you don’t expect them to be OK all the time.
- Don’t tell them it could be worse you don’t know what they’ve been through. I don’t even share some of the things I’ve been through, as some feelings are too painful to relive.
- Know your boundaries it’s important to let the person know you care, and you are there for them. But self-care is the most important, you can’t look after someone else if you aren’t looking after yourself. Be honest and know your limits, the person will understand how this feels.
- Never, ever use the following phrases… you may think they help, but they just make the person feel worse: “Don’t worry”, “Don’t Panic”, “It’s all in your head”, “You’re overreacting”, ANYTHING like this is an absolute no go, trust me it’s better to say nothing than use these phrases…
These are all taken from my own experiences, both being the person needing help, and being the person providing help. Each individual is different, and something that works for one person may not work for another, familiarise yourself with this.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my professional and personal experience, is that we have to look after each other, but first we have to look after ourselves.