Health Check

Worried about someone’s mental health? Tips for supporting a friend or loved one

If you have someone in your life who you’re worried might not be coping well, don’t be afraid to check in and let them know you’re there. Here are some things to keep in mind when you do.

Written by Editor Medibank
Young man experiencing depression during social isolation.

With fewer opportunities to mix with friends and family members in real life, the increased isolation from the coronavirus outbreak can be especially challenging for people with a history of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, as well as for those who live alone or who are struggling with significant changes to their finances, job or another aspect of their life.

If you have someone in your life who you’re worried might not be coping well, or who might be at risk, don’t be afraid to check in and let them know you’re there. Here are some things to keep in mind when you do.

Signs someone might be struggling

Some of the usual signs of depression or anxiety issues may be more difficult to spot when so many of us are going through big shifts to our day-to-day life. These can include changes to sleep or eating habits, mood, routines and social interactions. One of the most tell-tale signs to look out for is someone becoming more withdrawn or disconnected. If you haven’t heard from someone in a while, reach out and see how they’re going.

Not sure what to say?

The most important thing is to check in, start a conversation, and let the person know that you’re there. You don’t have to have all the answers—and in fact, it’s better to just listen.

  • Let them talk, rather than trying to solve their problems or provide advice.
  • Ask open ended questions about how they’re feeling.
  • Don’t rush to fill the silence or gaps in the conversation, even if it feels a bit awkward.
  • Listen as non-judgementally as you can and try not to be critical of their responses.
  • Reassure them that you care about them and support is available.
  • Encourage them to get help

Gently encourage your friend or loved one to reach out to their GP or a mental health professional. Remind them that many health professionals are now doing online consultations using video, so they can ask about this when they book an appointment.

Don’t take it personally if they don’t want to talk

The person you’re worried about may not feel ready to talk. Don’t pressure them, and try not to feel hurt or offended. Just reassure them that you’ll be there to listen and support them if they’d like to talk another time. Just showing the person that you care and offering support can make a difference, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you.

It can also be frustrating if the person you’re concerned about doesn’t want to seek help, but try to continue to be supportive anyway. If you can, try to find out what’s holding them back and see if you can help—for example if they’ve had negative experiences when they’ve talked to a mental health professional before, it might be useful to help them search for someone who comes with positive recommendations.

If you think they may be at risk of harming themselves, you can contact a service such as Lifeline on www.lifeline.org.au or 13 11 14 for more specific advice.

Plan virtual activities together

When someone is struggling with their mental health, it can be especially hard to get motivated to do the things that will ultimately make them feel better. Offering to do some of these together, and then following through, is a tangible way help. You could find an app or online course to learn mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy or another strategy to manage stress, and suggest that you do it together. Or plan some exercise sessions where you do an online fitness class at the same time. You could even ring each other while you go for a walk. Virtual games nights or watching a film or TV show at the same time can also be a fun way to stay connected.

If you’re worried someone may be at risk of violence

The isolation and financial distress many people are experiencing can also increase the risk of domestic and family violence. If you are concerned about someone, reach out and let them know you’re there. Just like when you have concerns about someone’s mental health, the key is to listen and try not to judge the decisions they make. For more information, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au for 24/7 support.

Don’t go it alone

Supporting someone who is struggling can be draining, especially if it is ongoing. Reach out to other friends or family members to help share in checking in and supporting them too. You can set up a virtual network so that it’s not all falling on your shoulders. You may also need to vent from time to time, so find people you trust to talk to openly, and consider online support groups. Make an extra effort to use technology to stay connected with friends and family when you can’t see them in person, and try to include video chats so you can see each other’s faces too.

Look after your own wellbeing too

Make it a priority to keep doing things you enjoy, and be conscious not to let supporting someone take over your life. It’s also important to get a good night’s sleep, eat nourishing food, get some sunshine and fresh air (even if that’s just sitting by the window if you can’t get outdoors), and aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. For more tips and information on how to look after you mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus outbreak, check out this article.

Find ways to relax and calm down

If you’re feeling tense or anxious, it can help to learn some strategies to help you relax and reduce stress. These can include controlled breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness or meditation and other techniques. An app such as Smiling Mind can help you learn some of these skills.

24/7 Medibank Nurse Phone Service

If you’re a Medibank member with hospital cover* you can now call 1800 644 325 to speak to a health professional for confidential support, advice or information. We’re here to help support both your physical and mental health.

*OSHC members should call the Student Health & Support Line on 1800 887 283.

Written by Editor Medibank

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