How to support a person suffering from mental health issues

Statistics reveal there are over 970 million people in the world suffering from a mental health and substance abuse disorder, and these are only the official figures. In reality, the numbers are much higher. A lot of people never get diagnosed and never receive treatment for their mental health issues, so they’re not included in any record. 

Given the statistics, chances are you know at least one person, be it a friend, family member, colleague, or acquaintance who is currently struggling with a mental illness. It can be difficult to know for sure if the people you care about are affected by a mental health problem unless they’ve been diagnosed by a certified healthcare professional and they told you about their problem. But sometimes, the signs are obvious enough for you to notice that something’s not right with their mental state. 

Even if in recent years mental health awareness has been on the rise, the topic remains taboo in certain parts of the world or in certain situations. So, starting the conversation on mental health can be quite difficult, for both those who suffer from an illness and those who are trying to help. 

This raises an important question: how can one support someone they care about when that person is either diagnosed with a mental disorder or they suspect they might suffer from a mental health issue? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question. There are however certain things you can do to show your loved one he or she is not alone and provide some much-needed support for them. Here’s how you can help. 

Give them the chance to open up about what they’re going through

If the person in question hasn’t opened up about what they’re going through yet, it might be because they still haven’t had the opportunity to do so. Some people are willing to talk to someone they trust about their issues, but they have to find the right moment for that. 

Parties, bars, and social gatherings don’t exactly provide the right setting for heart-to-heart conversations on mental health problems. What you should do is meet in a quiet and peaceful setting where there’s only the two of you and you can discuss without being bothered for as long as you want. That can help the other person relax and finally find the courage to talk about what’s troubling them. 

Listen to them carefully

Once they do decide to open up and tell you about their problems, you should listen carefully to what they’re saying. It’s important to just be present and try to understand what they’re going through. They might not even need your feedback. Some people are just looking for someone who is willing to listen without judging or trying to fix them. 

Let them share as much or as little as they want, and don’t try to push them to talk about something if they don’t feel comfortable yet. The fact that they are talking to you about something so personal and sensitive is already a big step forward for them, so let them set the pace and don’t try to rush things. 

Don’t try to make a diagnosis yourself 

Unless you’re a medical professional with vast experience in treating patients suffering from mental health disorders, you shouldn’t try to diagnose someone with a mental health issue. Even if you have some knowledge in the field and you feel like the symptoms that were described to you resemble a certain mental disorder, putting a label on them would be both wrong and dangerous.

You have to understand that someone who shares their symptoms with you is already in a fragile state of mind. The last thing they need is for you to make assumptions about their mental health and give them advice on how to fix it. Only a qualified medical practitioner can do that. Limit yourself to listening and providing emotional support. That’s the most useful thing you could do for anyone who’s going through a hard time. 

Encourage them to seek professional help

Talking about a mental health issue can be difficult, but taking action and seeking actual help from a medical professional can be a lot harder. You could help make the process a lot smoother for your loved one by encouraging them to get help. Let them know they don’t have to go through it alone and offer to help them look for the right practitioner, and even make appointments for them. 

If their situation doesn’t allow them to go to a therapist in-person, you could suggest looking for telehealth solutions. Just make sure you’re not being too pushy about it. Always approach things with calm and patience, and try to provide hope and reassurance. 

Learn as much as you can about their mental health problem

If your loved one has already received a diagnosis after they’ve been consulted by a qualified doctor, you should try to learn about their illness from trusted sources. There are plenty of resources on the internet that can help you get educated on any number of topics regarding mental health issues, so finding information should be easy.

However, don’t assume that just because you‘ve read a few articles about your loved one’s condition you are now an expert in the field and know how to fix the problem. Your job is to be there and offer support, not find a cure for their illness. Even if your actions come from a good place, they can make the other person feel extremely uncomfortable. 

Show patience and understanding 

Getting treated for a mental health disorder usually implies a very long and complicated process. There’s no such thing as a miracle cure that can make everything alright overnight. Progress might be slow and your loved one might experience regular setbacks. These things are common for someone who is struggling to recover, and you should be prepared for it. That’s why practicing patience and understanding is essential in these situations. 

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