Speak Up. Reach Out is Freshered's mental health initiative.
Mental health refers to an individual’s psychological wellbeing. We all have mental health, and it can be range from being good to poor. When a person’s mental health becomes poor, it may mean they’re experiencing mental health issues, and might be finding it hard to engage with usual activities and every day life.
Poor mental health in others isn’t always easy to spot because some people may hide it well and seem fine. However, there are ways of checking in if you suspect someone is not doing so good.
If you’re concerned about a friend’s or loved one’s mental health, this article will explain how to approach them. Checking in can be difficult to do, especially if your loved one has been distant or quiet lately, but it can be a lifesaver.
Trust your gut
If your instinct is telling you there’s something not quite right with your loved one’s mental health, you’re probably right. Always trust your gut.
Be compassionate, non-judgemental and supportive
Approach your loved one with compassion, offer them plenty of support, and don’t judge or question anything that they tell you. This will help them to feel comfortable sharing their current difficulties with you.
Check in by asking twice
Recent research has shown that 78% of British people will always reply “fine” when asked how they’re doing once, even if they’re struggling. Asking “how are you?” followed by “how are you really?” can show your loved one that you’re genuinely interested to know how they’re doing, rather than only asking to be polite.
People can be reluctant to open up for several reasons, such as not wanting to be a burden or cause any stress for other people. Asking twice shows them that you really care and you’re ready to listen to them.
People with poor mental health might not want advice immediately. It might be the first time they’re opening up about their struggles, so they may want to get everything off their chest and just talking about what’s going on.
Actively listening will help you to let them feel heard. This means that you should try to listen rather than give suggestions unless they directly ask for your help on what to do next, which leads us to the next step. You should also try to focus all your attention on them and the conversation, and offer supportive phrases like “your feelings are valid”, “you’re so strong for talking to me about this” and “thank you for trusting me with this”.
If your loved one asks what they should do, states that they’re considering seeking for help, or suggests that they don’t necessarily know what to do next, this is your queue to signpost them. This means that you offer them resources to professional teams who can help them in the next steps of their mental health journey.
Some examples of signposts that you could use include:
- Texting SHOUT to 85258
- Calling the Samaritans helpline on 116 123
- Suggesting contacting their GP to discuss their current mental health and explore what support options their GP can offer
Remember, while you care a lot about your loved one, you are not a professional. It’s not your responsibility to try and fix their problem, so listening and supporting them will show them that you care about them and want to make sure they are ok.
Give them the space to come back
In the event that you have asked twice and they still aren’t ready to open up, let them know that you’re always there to listen whenever they need to get things off their chest. This takes away the pressure of feeling like they need to share anything with you, but gives them the space to know that if they do want to share, they have someone there to listen.
At the mention of suicide
Opening up about experiencing suicidal thoughts is very a difficult thing to do. Suicidal thoughts can be easy to spot if they’re direct: “I want to die” or “I want to kill myself”. They can also be indirect: “I want it all to stop”, “I just can’t do it anymore” or “I’ve given up”. If you suspect someone is feeling suicidal and are making indirect suicidal comments, ask them if they’re considering suicide.
If your loved one tells you that they’ve been having suicidal thoughts, signpost them to SHOUT or Samaritans. The volunteers at these organisations are trained in dealing with people having suicidal thoughts and are available 24/7 all year round.
Remember to always take suicidal thoughts and comments seriously.
The takeaway message
Checking in on your loved one’s mental health is not an easy thing to do, but it might help them more than you think. Sometimes, just knowing that there’s someone that genuinely cares about them, someone who actually wants to listen to them and be there for them, can be enough.