You see a friend or family member in pain. You reach out. You want to help them, but you don’t know what to do. Maybe they’re grappling with depression, or maybe it’s ADHD or anxiety, or something you don’t really understand like bipolar disorder.
Whatever the case, you want to be a good person and help. You just don’t know where to begin. Here’s a few ideas on how you can help your friend or family member with their mental health concern.
Offer Your Friendship and Support
The most important thing a loved one can do for a family member or friend in pain is to offer them your friendship and support. Listen to them, first and foremost, and be someone who can be there for them to talk to. Simple listening is often underestimated in its value and importance to someone in need. A key point in being a good listener is not to judge or be judgmental, and also to not barge in offering your own opinions and advice. Just listen, offer emotional support and temper your opinions knowing the person in front of you is vulnerable and in need.
Believe it or not, listening well (also called “active listening”) is a skill unto itself, but one that can be readily learned. If you want to try to be a better listener, please read our article on active listening. It basically means giving the other person your entire attention in a time and place with no distractions, and focusing on what the other person is saying (and not just what you’re hearing — believe it or not, these are not always the same thing!).
Don’t Disagree, Argue or Disparage
When someone wants someone to talk to about their depression or other mental health concerns, they’re not really for an intellectual discussion or argument. In fact, check your intellectual brain at the door and pull out your emotional brain. It’s not a time to disagree with someone who’s looking for guidance, direction or help with an issue. It’s a time to offer support, hope, and help in guiding the person through the realities of their situation. Doing so in the most gentle, open-minded way possible is usually far more helpful than a matter-of-fact, “Why don’t you just get over it?” mindset.
Engage Your Friend or Family Member in Activities
Many times, it is the inclination of someone who’s under a lot of stress, anxiety, or depression to just not want to deal with others. “Just leave me alone,” is a commonly heard response. Don’t accept such a response at face value, because often times people who are in a lot of emotional pain want the company of other people and social situations, but don’t know how to accept it or ask for it. So make it easy for others by inviting them to activities you’d normally do with others, whether it’s a walk in the park, or a dinner for a special occasion. Just because someone has their emotional plate full doesn’t mean they want to be ignored.
Having said that, respect your friend or family member’s wishes if they say, “Thanks but no thanks.” Always offer, but don’t pressure or try and guilt someone into doing something they really don’t feel up to.
Help Your Friend Seek Treatment
It won’t be appropriate in every situation, but in many cases, your friend or family member may need actual assistance in getting treatment. They may not have the first idea of where to go, who to talk to, and what it involves. They may also not be aware of whether their insurance covers the treatment, and if not, how much it’s going to cost them. All of these issues drive a lot of people not to bother to seek treatment. You can be that connection between finding out some of these answers on their behalf, and effective timely treatment for their concern.
Yes, this means taking some initiative and effort to dealing with these things, but if you really care about your family member or friend, it’s a small price to pay. Once a person starts treatment for a mental health concern, they usually begin to feel improvements within a few weeks and start to feel better. Once in treatment, your role can change to one of cheerleader and general supporter. You don’t have to check in with them every week any longer, but once in awhile you can ask, “Hey, how’s that therapy working out for you?”
You Can Help
People often underestimate their importance in other people’s lives, especially their loved ones and friends. You can be an important stepping stone for people who are in pain but are too afraid to seek treatment, or don’t know whether to even begin such a journey. Take the initiative and make the effort. You may be surprised at how far so little effort on your part goes to helping your friend or loved one through their mental health concern.