Help For Friends And Family Of Mental Health Sufferers

Help For Friends And Family Of Mental Health Sufferers

by Dr Emma Gray - 10th August, 2018

Being close to someone who is suffering from a mental health problem can be very difficult, not knowing how to help, feeling confused about what is going on, feeling frustrated with the person, the situation, or yourself, maybe feeling isolated and hopeless about what to do next.

In this blog I am going to share 6 tips to help you to help the person that you care about.

1. Inform Yourself

An important first step is to find out as much as you can about the problem that your friend or family member is struggling with. This will put you in the strongest position to understand what is happening and understanding what is happening puts you in the strongest position to help and support them. Useful information on many mental health problems can be found here.

2. Ask Them

Once you are familiar with the general principles of the mental health problem that your friend or family member is experiencing, find out about their particular version of it. Each person experiences mental illness in a slightly different way and knowing the particular experience of your person will put you a step closer to helping them.

This can be easier said than done as when a person is struggling with mental illness the strong emotions (in particular shame, anxiety and depression) can make it hard for them to discuss what is happening. So, keep this in mind, take some time to discover, be patient and use the questions in tip 3 to start up a conversation.

3. How to Start ‘The Conversation’

Knowing how to talk to someone who is suffering from a mental health problem can be tricky, so here are my suggestions for how to help your person feel like they can talk to you about their experiences:

Conversation starters:

  •  I have noticed that you don’t seem yourself recently and I have found myself worrying about you.
  •  I am not sure if now is a good time, but I wanted to let you know that I have been a bit worried about you recently, something seems to be on your mind/you seem distracted/troubled.
  • I don’t want to put you under pressure if you don’t want to talk about it, but if you do, I am here and I promise I will do my best to try and listen, understand and help if I can.

And when your person is ready to talk:

  • How do you make sense of what is happening?
  • What makes it worse?
  • Does anything make it feel better?
  • You might not know the answer to this at the moment, but is there anything I can do for you?
  • I know we don’t quite know the way forward at the moment but I think together we can work it out if we keep talking, could we do that?

4. No Pressure

It will be difficult not to put your person under pressure to get help. However, it is important that they come to this in their own time. People who come into therapy under their own steam always do better and stay better for longer. So, patiently support your person as they make their own way into treatment, maybe using the last 2 tips to make sure you don’t put them under pressure to move faster along this road than they are able.

5. Support for You

It stressful watching a person that you care for suffer, so make sure you get some support for yourself. You can help someone else if you are not in a good place. See the resources below for more information.

6. Anger and Frustration

When we feel worried, anger and frustration can become a go to, a way of coping with our anxiety and the target of our worry can then become the target for our anger. So, if you find you are feeling angry or frustrated with your friend or family member, don’t beat yourself up, remember it is a very human reaction to feelings of anxiety. Then use the support systems that you have put in place (tip 5) to work through these feelings to leave yourself free to help and support your person.

Useful resources

Websites:

https://www.mind.org.uk

https://www.rethink.org

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

https://www.carersuk.org

Books:

For Mental Health – Changing Minds

For Depression – An Introduction to Coping with Depression for Carers

For Eating Disorders – Beating Your Eating Disorder

For OCD – The Essential Guide to OCD: Help for Families and Friends

For Bipolar Disorder –  High Tide Low Tide


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


Read more about my approach to counselling here...


View all my other articles here...

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