May is Mental Health Awareness Month
“There is no health without mental health; mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business.”
To close out the month we are including some tips for supporting those with mental illness. Help erase the stigma!
- Practice active listening. Active listening is different than just hearing what a person has to say. A good active listener puts everything aside and gives their complete attention to the person who is talking; asks open-ended questions to get more details about the topic that is being discussed (ex. “And how did that make you feel?”); and takes moments throughout to summarize what they’ve been told and make sure they are understanding clearly.
- Ask what you can do. It can be tempting to assume what would be helpful to someone who is struggling, but it is always better to ask what they need from you. If you ask and get a response like, “nothing, I’m fine,” offer up a few suggestions for things you would be willing to do (without being pushy). For instance, you could offer to come sit with them and watch a movie, cook a meal, or pick up a few things at the store.
- Do not compare. If a friend or loved-one is going through a tough situation and they come to you for support, you might feel tempted to tell them about something that happened to you and how you were able to get through it. It is okay to share similar experiences but be careful not to compare. For instance, if they are telling you about a breakup, do not mention your overly complicated divorce. Focus on the positive and what you did to cope with feelings of loss or loneliness.
- Offer to join them. When someone is going through a time of sadness or uncertainty, their emotions can take over and leave them feeling paralyzed and unable to take care of life’s obligations. Offering to help with chores, attending doctor appointments, or picking up the dry cleaning will help them feel a sense of accomplishment, lifting their spirits.
- Keep your word. If you have offered your support to someone and told them you would do something, keep your word. When a person is struggling, the last thing they need is to feel abandoned by someone else. If you cannot keep your promise, make a sincere apology, and find another time that you can do what you promised and follow through.
- Do not judge. To be truly supportive of someone, you need to put your personal opinions aside. They may be struggling because of a mistake that they made. You may think that they are overreacting, but you will never know, and criticism is not helpful to their recovery.
- Know when more serious help is needed. Sometimes the support that you can offer will not be enough. If you notice that your friend or loved-one continues to struggle after weeks or months, they may need professional help. Do not be afraid to encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional and offer to help find a provider. If someone you care about is in immediate danger of taking suicidal action, seek help by calling 911 or going to the closest emergency room. Trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 by texting Mental Health America: “MHA” to 741-741 or calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255). h