How to Help Someone Struggling with Mental Health Issues

In the last two years, we have seen a drastic rise in mental health issues. The effects that the pandemic had on us as a whole — our physical, mental, emotional, social, financial and spiritual wellness — were extraordinary.  Before the pandemic, it was not uncommon to know someone facing a mental health challenge, but now it is typical to live with, work with, or be friends with several people struggling with their mental wellness.

The first thing I advise everyone is to TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST.  You can find a number of blog articles and online courses to help support your own mental health right here on the Nickerson Institute website. When you are in a position to support others on their mental health journey, here are some ways you can effectively do that:

DO start by LISTENING.   We all want to be seen, heard, and have our experiences validated.  We all need to know that someone acknowledges what we are going through.  This means looking them in the eyes when they are talking.  Set down your mobile device and try not to let other things going on in the environment distract you.  Be totally present.  Show you are listening by nodding your head or making a small gesture of understanding. Try to connect with them on a heart-to-heart level without taking on their pain.  In psychology terms, this is called attunement.

DON’T try and FIX THE PROBLEM.  Giving advice to someone struggling with any issue in their life (whether it’s mental, emotional, spiritual…) undermines their confidence and ability to come to a decision that is best for them.  Even if you think you know exactly what they should do, refrain from saying so.  Instead…

DO ASK them what you can do for them.  This might sound like:  What I can do to be your friend right now?  Do you want me to just listen?   If you are someone who tends to fix things for other people, it might be challenging for you to not sneak your solution into the question.  For example:  “What would you like me to do to help?” is a supportive, empowering question.  Whereas, “Would you like me to go speak with them and sort this out?” is taking away someone’s power.

That said, don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself crossing a boundary to help someone — especially if you are a highly sensitive person.  Should that happen, take a step back and adjust your role.  This might look like: “On second thought, maybe you would like to just talk through what you plan to say to them so you feel more confident about handling this situation?”

DO be POSITIVE by reminding them of their capabilities.  You might say: I believe you can get through this.  You are stronger than you know.  You might also remind them of a time when they overcame a similar challenge or when their worst fears resolved in a positive outcome.

DON’T convey pity or AWFULIZE the situation.  Sometimes we think that offering support to someone means that we should agree with what they are saying and feeling.  “You poor thing!” can be conveyed instead as, “I’m sorry to hear that happened.”  And “Oh my gosh, that’s terrible!” can instead become, “That sounds like you’ve been through a lot.”

DO remember to take care of yourself!   It can’t be said enough that the more you take care of your own mental health, the more you will be able to help others around you.  This goes for everyone — mental health coaches included!

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Blog Post written by:

Dr. Nickerson's professional experience as a psychologist and personal passion for developing the mind-body-spirit connection have fueled her success and devotion to training individuals and organizations to foster whole wellness.

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