Ask them ‘how can I support you?’
Now that sounds rather obvious but in fact it’s the one thing that people rarely think to do. Actually asking outright what you can do to physically or emotionally support someone you care about who is struggling with mental health difficulties will often result in some answers you wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. These will differ from person to person, but if you don’t ask the question you’re unlikely to find out the answer as many young people with mental health issues will not have the self-confidence to ask for help or support no matter how much it’s needed.
Remember the ‘real’ them
It can be really easy for you to forget about the real person behind the mental health difficulty as the label looms large and will often dominate many aspects of their current life. But one of your jobs is to remember the real them – what did you like and admire about them before they were unwell? Take a moment to remember those aspects of their personality every day instead of just thinking of them with their cumbersome mental health label. Jemma is not ‘just a person with depression’, she’s an artist and a singer who is bubbly, courageous and fun – who happens to be struggling with depression right now. Keeping the real ‘them’ alive in your mind and helping them remember their personality in happier times will make their struggle feel more worthwhile and remind them why it’s worth the hard slog to get better.
Treat them normally
Don’t walk on eggshells around them – this can become very wearing very quickly and can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and isolation. They may be struggling with a mental health issue but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a sense of humour any more or can’t enjoy a good gossip about last night’s TV.
Don’t be scared to ask questions
Don’t avoid all mention of their difficulties – this just isn’t realistic and you’re bound to have a million questions and that’s okay Of course, you should check with them whether they’re happy for you to discuss the issue – their body language will soon tell you if the answer is a no in any case! But most people will welcome some discussion around their illness with those they trust as they’re probably struggling to understand it themselves. As long as this is done in a supportive and sensitive way it can be a positive experience for both of you.
It’s easy to make assumptions about what a young person with a mental health issue can and can’t manage – and they may well have voted with their feet, choosing to opt out of social situations for example. However, you should continue to include them when organising meet ups etc as there will come a time when they’re ready to re-join the group – and also, not being included / invited can be very hurtful and is open to misinterpretation / over analysis by any young person, but especially by someone suffering with the very low self-esteem associated with many mental health issues.
Keep in touch
If they are absent for a period of time – perhaps because they have become an inpatient at a psychiatric or paediatric unit, be sure to keep in touch. This can be a hugely unrewarding experience as they are fairly unlikely to reply – but you can rest assured that they are likely to be reading every word and treasuring the contact they have from people they trust, even if they are not up to formulating a response. This ongoing contact can also make returning to their old life seem a lot less terrifying.
If you are concerned that someone you care for is having thoughts of suicide, here are some excellent sources of support and advice.Do you have any further suggestions to add or questions to ask? If so, please leave a comment. —