Supporting someone else – be that a partner, family member, friend or colleague – when they are experiencing mental ill health, can be incredibly impactful on your own mental health. This is something that often gets overlooked.
When someone we care about is struggling, of course we want to help them; and research clearly shows that people with mental health issues are more likely to recover, and stay well, if they are supported.
It is important that support comes from a number of sources – from family, friends, the workplace – and of course for many, professional help is also needed. As a partner, family member, friend, or colleague; there is lots that we can do to help and support the person that we can about – we can offer practical help and support, we can provide help accessing professional support, and most importantly we can offer non-judgemental listening.
When someone shares that they are struggling with their mental health, or are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, or even if they share that they are experiencing thoughts of suicide – this takes huge courage. If it is the first time that a person has talked about their struggles, it can feel like a very vulnerable place to be, for them – and, it also takes a lot of trust, in the person they are opening up to.
For the person offering support, this can be a scary place to be. We may find ourselves hearing something that is really difficult to hear. We may be worried that we don’t know how to respond, or that we might say the wrong thing, and somehow make things worse. We might not know where to go for further help, or how we can effectively support the person in front of us.
It is important that we always prioritise our own mental health and wellbeing; that we don’t take on more than we can cope with; and that we make sure that if we are providing some support to someone else, we also take good care of ourselves within that.
Here are a few tips for anyone that is currently supporting someone, to help you also look after yourself and keep yourself safe:
- Remember that is it not your job to fix anyone. Don’t overstep the boundaries, and step in to the territory of the professionals. You can offer support – and, professional help may be needed. It’s ok to ask if professional help has been sought and to encourage this. A GP is a good first port of call in seeking professional help.
- If you are offering support on an on-going basis, make sure there are healthy boundaries in place and that there isn’t an over-reliance on your support.
- Check in with yourself regularly to ensure your own wellbeing isn’t being affected. If it is, consider talking to someone about how you feel, and seek professional help if needed.
- Be honest about your capacity to help / provide support. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
- Don’t take over – it is far healthier to help to empower someone in their own recovery and wellbeing, rather than diving in and taking over.
- If you are supporting a friend, talk with them and agree who else can also be part of their support network.
- If you are supporting a colleague, talk with them about what support may be available in the workplace, and support them to gain access and/or to open up to other colleagues who can help.
- If you are concerned that there is any risk to life, escalate the circumstances (if this is a workplace situation) and contact emergency services and/or the local mental health crisis team.
- If you are feeling the impact of supporting someone else, consider seeing your doctor.
Hopefully there are some useful tips here that might help you.
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