Realising someone we love or care about is struggling with poor mental health is never easy. Even though you might not be sure what to do for the best, there are different ways you can try and help someone who is struggling.

Talking about mental health is key

This is the first step to take when you know someone is going through a difficult time. This way you can discover what is troubling them and what you can do to help. Once you are aware of an issue, it is always advisable not to wait, as otherwise you might lose precious time before putting in place the support need.

Here are a few tips on how to have those very meaningful and at times difficult conversations with someone struggling with mental health problems:

1. Be present

It is key to offer an open and non-judgemental space for these conversations to take place, where there are no distractions. This way you can totally focus on what is being said and be fully present to what is shared. Giving someone your full attention helps trust to built faster and more easily.

2. Listen carefully

This is crucial to any kind of communication, and especially important when we want to offer our support. Repeating key words that have been used back to them will demonstrate you have understood. This doesn’t require you to have to agree with what they are saying, but by showing you understand how they feel, you are letting them know you respect their feelings.

3. Respect their pace

Try your best not to interrupt them while they’re talking, nor pressure them to share more than they feel ready to. Respect their own pace and honour the effort they are making by sharing how they feel. This will bring you closer and will foster their courage to open up again in the future.

4. Keep questions open ended

Make sure not to pressure them or use leading questions, based on your assumptions of how you think they might be feeling. Use open ended questions, such as “How you are feeling?” rather than “I can see you are feeling very low”. Try to keep your language as neutral as possible, allowing plenty of time for the person to answer and gather their thoughts.

5. Discuss wellbeing & next steps

Being active, having a healthy diet and connecting to people can help protect mental health and sustain wellbeing. Explore ways of de-stressing and ask them if they find anything helpful when struggling with their mental health. You might want to offer to go the GP together, or help them talk to someone else. Try to remain calm, not to take control and allow them to make decisions.

6. Know your limits

You probably aren’t train to offer mental health support and, while you may be happy to talk and offer support, try not to make assumptions about what may be wrong or quickly suggest your own diagnosis or solutions.
Seek professional help or give them information of organisations they can reach out to. If you believe they are in immediate danger or they have injuries that need medical attention, you need to take action to make sure they are safe.

If it is a family member or close friend you are concerned about, they may not want to talk to you. Try not to take this personally, as talking to someone you love can be more difficult as they might be worried they are hurting you. It is important to keep being honest and open and showing them that you care.

Always remember that, no matter how much you wish to help, or how hard it can be to witness someone struggling, it is ultimately that person’s choice whether or not they seek help.


Author: Sarah Speziali, Chief Therapist at InsideOut