How can you support someone you love who is struggling?
“When I was little, if I fell and grazed my knee, my parents would immediately rush to clean and bandage the wound. But today, when I tell them that I feel depressed and that I am not myself, they turn a blind eye and say it’s a phase, it will pass.”
This observation by my client is not isolated. In my years of practice as a Clinical Psychologist and therapist, I have seen many people become overwhelmed when confronted with the mental health struggles of their loved ones.
In my practice as a clinical psychologist and therapist, I have noticed that most people are overwhelmed when dealing with mental health issues, because of the stigma attached and the lack of psychoeducation regarding what is actually happening.
Here are ways in which you can be an ally when someone you know is struggling:
Listen without judgement
A comment that I often hear as a therapist is, “I wish people would just care enough to listen. I really do have a problem; I’m not just trying to draw attention to myself.”
When someone opens about to you about their mental health, they are not immediately seeking advice, opinions or solutions. The best way you can help them feel safe, supported and understood, is by listening actively.
Open-ended questions like “What can I do to help?” are a great way to respond.
Don’t bring up your own difficulties – leave that for another day. Your loved one can do without comparisons.
Show your concern through statements like “That must be tough for you,” or “I am here for you”.
If they start crying as they speak, don’t ask them to stop.
Try not to rush them, and don’t be distracted. You can support them just by giving them your time and attention.
Offer them your support
Depression can make a person feel overwhelmed even when faced with the simplest of tasks. A practical way in which you can be a source of relief is by making space for their needs. Ask them clear and direct questions to ensure that your actions are supporting them, and they feel respected and comfortable with your involvement.
If they want, you can assist them in drawing up a schedule so that they are not stressed out on a daily basis.
Make plans to go out for a movie, coffee or meal together (but don’t take it personally if they cancel at the last minute).
Check in on them if you know they’re going through a crisis.
Point them in the right direction
While you may want to help your loved one, remember that you’re not equipped to do it all on your own.
Suggest that they seek professional help from a psychologist/therapist or psychiatrist.
Read up about the symptoms of their condition and the different forms of treatment available, and share resources.
Help them set up appointments, if needed.
Encourage them by highlighting the positive changes you’ve seen since they began treatment or therapy.
Mental health struggles manifest differently for different people, and there is no right or wrong way to be a caregiver. Most importantly, be patient and remain sensitive. Make sure you take care of yourself too, while you show up for your loved one.