How to Help Someone Struggling With Their Mental Health

It can be hard to see someone go through a hard time, and even harder when you are unsure of how to help them. We want to reach out, but worried we will say or do the wrong thing. So we tend to steer in the direction of caution and at times, not do anything.

It’s a tough spot. These are hard and challenging conversations. You want to dig and ask so you can help, but at the same time, you want to respect their privacy and autonomy. The good news is there are ways to do both and also increase the likelihood of the conversation going as smoothly as possible.

Here are some tips for having a caring, respectful check-in with a friend, neighbour or loved one you are worried about:

Before the conversation:

  • Decide how you will approach the conversation. The best way to broach the subject depends on the person and will help you decide whether to approach the conversation in a delicate or direct way.

  • Bring up the conversation when the person is most comfortable. As long as there is no immediate danger of harming themselves or others, consider starting the conversation in a positive and relaxed setting and environment. If the conversation starts in the heat of the moment, when tensions are high and when they or yourself feel angry, it may be overwhelming for them and could hinder the likelihood of them opening up and talking about their struggles. Try and find a quiet place such as going for a drive, catching up over coffee, going fishing, or taking a walk.

Starting the conversation:

  • Start the conversation by telling them that you have noticed changes (changes in behavior, routine, their usual self) and describe these changes. Then share that you are worried about them and ask what is bothering them. Here are some suggestions:

    • I’ve noticed you haven’t been going out lately. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?

    • You don’t seem yourself lately. What’s going on?

    • I’ve noticed you’ve been late coming to the farm. Is everything okay?

Keeping the conversation going:

  • The most important thing you can do after you’ve opened up the conversation is to listen and show understanding rather than give advice. Comments such as “what happened next” and “tell me more” can reinforce you are paying attention. Phrases such as “I’m here for you” and “you’re not alone” let’s them know you are supportive.

  • You don’t have to know or have all the answers. Let them know you are thankful that they have talked to you about what they are going through, that you understand how hard it is to talk to someone about how they are feeling and reassure them that they have taken a positive step.

  • Encourage the person to get help. Proceed with this step gently. It can be hard to articulate exactly what someone needs when they are struggling. Here are some great prompts to encourage a person to get help:

    • Ask: What have you done in the past that has helped you manage in similar situations?

    • Ask: How would you like me to support you?

    • You could say: “When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this…. You might find it useful too.”

    • You could say: “It might be helpful to connect with someone who can support you. I’m happy to help find the right person to talk to.”

  • Watch out for signs of suicidal thoughts so you can get emergency help. If they talk about taking their life, acquired the means to do so, changes in their normal routine in a way that worries you, begins to behave recklessly or gives away their belongings, they may be considering suicide. Now is the time to act and speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask the person if they are feeling suicidal. If they say yes, help them contact their family, and get them to the emergency room if you can, or call the National Suicide Prevention line at 1-833-456-4566 for guidance.

If they say they don’t have suicidal thoughts and you are unsure and worried, you may need to make a judgement call and take the above measures.

After the conversation:

  • Check in regularly. People who are struggling often need support over the long haul. Send a text, leave a voicemail and show them there are people in their life who care.

  • Support them through the process by being patient and compassionate and these other suggestions:

    • Have realistic expectations. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight.

    • Lead by example. Encourage a healthy lifestyle like eating better, avoiding alcohol and drugs, exercising and leaning on others for support.

    • Encourage activity. Invite them to join you in uplifting activities like going out to a movie or having dinner at their favorite restaurant.

  • Support can be shown and felt in a variety of other ways too:

    • Clean their place, truck, and equipment

    • Cooking them food

    • Running errands for them

    • Accompany them to the doctor or professional support

    • Offer them a place to stay

    • Help them with administrative tasks

    • Make them a care package

    • Offer to help them with their livestock

  • Take care of yourself. Caring for someone close to you can be challenging and often can be an isolating experience. During this time, it is important to look after your own mental health and wellbeing to provide the support and care that your friend and family member need.

If you are looking for more resources or support on how to help someone who is going through a hard time, visit Do More Ag‘s list of resources.

This site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are in crisis, please visit your local emergency department or call 911 immediately.