Top 6 tips to supporting a loved one struggling with their mental health

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20% of Australians experience mental illness each year*. If someone you love has told you they are struggling with their mental health, you may not be sure what you can do to best support them and keep them safe. 

Here are 6 tips for supporting a loved one struggling with their mental health:

1. Take the backseat approach and just be there to listen. 

Even though you may not always completely understand why the person feels the way they do at certain times, you can still listen non-judgementally (you’re actually not expected to know what to do or have all the answers!)

2. Respond to what they tell you with empathy.

Empathetic responses can sound like: “I’m sorry to hear you’re going through a tough time at the moment,” “I get why you’d feel that way,” or “I’m really glad you felt comfortable to open up to me about this.” 

3. Ask: “What can I do to best support you?”

This one question can make a world of difference to someone struggling with their mental health. Some people will actually have things in mind that they know will be helpful for them. Even if they don’t, the act of you asking shows your support and care – which is likely what they need most.

4. Respect their privacy.

Unless the person is in danger of immediate harm, you should not disclose their mental health to anyone else – except if they explicitly ask you to. Telling you about their mental illness takes a lot of courage, so it should be their choice to decide who, when, and how they tell about the situation. Of course, they have the right to not tell anyone at all – as long as they are safe, this is up to the individual. 

5. Don’t invalidate what they’re telling you.

Being told “grow up,” or “get over it,” can actually be quite harmful to the person. If you don’t know what to say, it’s much better to ask, “Is there anything I can do for you right now?” rather than judge and invalidate, even if unintentional.

6. Don’t try to ‘fix’ them.

We have professionals, medication, self-help and therapy to help manage mental illness symptoms; it is by no means your responsibility. So please don’t think that you need to be their therapist.

The biggest takeaway? 

Do your best to support them and show that you genuinely care.

Supporting someone, though, can take a lot out of you. It’s important to know your limits and ensure that you’re also looking after your mental health at the same time. And don’t forget… all those support services out there are just a phone call away if it’s getting a bit tough.

Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day:

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14;
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467;
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800;
  • MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78;
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636.
  • If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800-RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au

*ABS, 2018

Resource provided by Meraki Mental Health Training.

READ MORE: Why Greek youth are suffering in silence and the importance of intergenerational dialogue.

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