Supporting a friend struggling with wellbeing

RUOK Day serves as a reminder to get in touch with those around you and check to see how their mental health is doing. But have you considered what's next, and how you can help and support them going forward?

When someone close to us, be it a family member, friend, or colleague, bravely admits, "I'm not okay," it can evoke a flurry of emotions: concern, anxiety, and the urge to help. It's essential to approach the situation with the utmost empathy, understanding, and care. But how exactly should you navigate this delicate situation? Let's dive in.

1. Stay Calm and Engage in Active Listening

When someone reveals they're struggling, your initial reaction is important. Maintain an open, non-threatening body posture and resist the urge to interrupt. Use cues such as nodding or phrases like "I understand" to assure them you're wholly present.

2. Offer Empathy, Not Platitudes

Make sure to recognise and validate their feelings. Phrases like "I'm here for you" or "Thank you for sharing this with me" can be comforting. Avoid minimising their feelings with statements like "It could be worse" – these rarely help.

3. Dive Deeper with Open-ended Questions

Understanding is your main goal here. Questions like "What's been on your mind?" or "How have you been coping?" can help them express and even understand their feelings better.

4. Resist the Fixer Upper Temptation

While it's instinctive to want to 'fix' their problems, jumping to solutions might make them feel unheard. Listen first, and offer advice much later, and only when sought.

5. Gauge Their Safety

If you're worried about their immediate well-being, ask them calmly if they've had thoughts of self-harm. It's a challenging question, but it's necessary in ensuring their safety. If they are at risk, contact emergency services or take them to the emergency department.

6. Encourage Professional Support

Therapists, counselors, and medical professionals are trained to help. Encourage your loved one to seek their guidance. Offer assistance in finding resources if needed.

7. Offer Practical Assistance

Sometimes, the smallest gestures, like helping to find a suitable therapist or offering to accompany them to an appointment, can mean a lot.

8. Maintain the Connection

Reach out and stay connected after the conversation. A simple "How are you doing today?" can reinforce your support, and remind them that you're there to help on their journey.

9. Stay Informed

Educate yourself on mental health, the signs, the solutions, and available resources. The better informed you are, the more effective your support can be.

10. Don't Neglect Your Well-being

Supporting someone emotionally can be draining. Ensure you're also reaching out and getting the support you might need. Remember, you're not a replacement for professional help. Do what you can, but also recognise your boundaries and limitations.

In conclusion, when someone says they're not okay, they're taking a brave step in reaching out. Your role is not necessarily to solve their problems but to be a beacon of support. Lend an empathetic ear, offer assistance where you can, and remember, sometimes, just being there can make all the difference.