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Let’s talk: how to support someone’s mental health

The stigma around discussing our mental health is slowly being challenged, and whilst there are great initiatives helping to normalise these conversations, it can be difficult to know the ‘right’ thing to say or do if someone does reach out to you for help.

Charities, support groups, businesses, and even television networks are raising awareness of mental ill-health by encouraging people to reach out to others if they are struggling.

With this in mind, here are some things to consider and ways to help someone who is struggling with their mental health.

Sometimes, listening is enough.

If someone we know is going through a difficult time and reaches out, our first instinct can be to try and resolve their issues by offering solutions.

However, sometimes just a listening ear without comment or judgement can be a great relief and comfort.

Allowing someone the opportunity to voice their feelings without intervention may also lead to their own solution-making.

If this helps, it may be useful to suggest talking therapy – a therapy that offers the chance to resolve difficulties through providing a safe and non-judgmental space to talk, shout, or cry freely.

photo of a man and woman sitting on chairs in a bright room opposite each other to indicate that this may be a therapy session

Concentrating on listening instead of trying to offer solutions can also help us offer more thoughtful advice as we are able to see the bigger picture if we know the full story.

Ask what help they’d like from you.

Often without asking this important question, we step into the role of a therapist, which can put unnecessary pressure and sometimes strain on relationships.

Asking these questions also helps to establish healthy boundaries, as we can distinguish what support we can give and what help would be better delivered by a professional.

This can also help you figure out the best way to support someone without our concern and desire to help overwhelm them.

Whilst we may have the best intentions to do things for someone who needs support, such as a food shop or cooking dinner, this might not be what is really needed.

Sometimes a text is enough, or sometimes it’s a phone call. It may even be a weekly catch up. Whilst it’s not always possible, setting aside time for each other means that you can wholly focus on being supportive.

There are also free mental health information leaflets available on the NCMH website.

Avoid toxic positivity

Sometimes when we don’t know what to say it’s easier to regurgitate popular well-being mottos pasted onto tops, coasters, and phone cases. Whilst they may look cute, they’re not exactly the most helpful thing to say in reality.

Telling someone who is struggling to ‘be positive’ can make them feel helpless, as sometimes it’s not knowing why we are feeling low or how to be positive that is difficult.

These phrases can also trivialise what someone who is struggling with their mental health may be experiencing.

Mother and daughter sitting on a bed

Instead of leaning toward these phrases, offer reassurance and understanding, and acknowledge the bravery that it often requires to ask for help, as the first conversation can often be the hardest.

Reassure the person that mental ill-health is universal, and struggling does not mean that we are broken but are human, and our feelings are valid.

Mental health difficulties can also trigger feelings of insecurity, as though we don’t matter. Take this opportunity to remind the person of how much they mean to you and those around them.

To help, here’s a video of thoughtful prompts and phrases:

Don’t forget about your own mental health

It’s hard to see a loved one go through a difficult time, and it can be easy to neglect our own mental wellbeing when we’re trying to be there for someone else.

It may be helpful to suggest reaching out for support in workplaces, schools, and universities who can offer further help.

There’s never a ‘great’ time to experience mental health difficulties, and juggling daily life whilst wanting to be there for someone can be overwhelming.

If you’re supporting someone who experiences difficulties with their mental health, it’s important to check-in with your own wellbeing by considering how you’re feeling.

Consider keeping a mood-diary or log of how you’re feeling. This doesn’t have to be written, it can be typed into your phone notes. Just taking some time to reflect on how you’re feeling means you’re considering your own needs.

By checking in with your feelings, you’re also ensuring that your own mental wellbeing is looked after not just for yourself, but for those who feel supported by you.

Help in a crisis

If you’re concerned about yourself or someone’s immediate wellbeing, contact NHS 111 or the Samaritans on 116 123.

SilverCloud is a free self-help service in Wales with no GP referral needed.


Mind | Advice for friends and family

NHS | How to help someone with depression

Samaritans | Small Talk Saves Lives

Samaritans | What to do if someone isn’t OK

NCMH leaflet | Anxiety and panic attacks

NCMH leaflet | Depression

Ellie Short

Ellie is the Communications Officer for NCMH and the Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetic and Genomics at Cardiff University.

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National Centre for Mental Health, Cardiff University, Hadyn Ellis Building, Maindy Road, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ

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