Having mental health problems sucks, but so does seeing a person you care about struggling with them when you have no idea what to do. It can be frightening to see someone becoming more and more unwell without necessarily seeking help for whatever reason, and sometimes it is necessary for friends or family to step in. Unfortunately this can be a very awkward situation, after all nobody wants their friends to gather them round the fireplace for a good old “we think you are insane” discussion, so in this post I am going to try and help people who are concerned about someone’s mental health and don’t know what to do about it. These things are at least what I would like my friends and family to do if they ever suspected I had a problem, (though I would like to point out that there is no need to do any of these things now family, rest assured I am well aware that I am a bit funny in the head), so hopefully other people will find these approaches acceptable too…
OPTION ONE: The first and best way to deal with someone you love struggling with mental health problems alone is of course to approach them in some way and discuss your concerns. If you plan to talk to someone directly about the issue, the key with this is to not go in all guns blazing, in fact, do not involve a gun in the situation at all. If you must have a prop, take a cup of tea or something, everybody likes tea and nobody likes guns (a mantra that might make this world a better place if more political leaders followed it but I will try and stop wars at a later date, for now I am just going to tackle mental health problems. Please be patient.) The problem is that mentioning someone’s mental health in conversation is also one of the more difficult options as it can be an awkward topic to bring up. For this reason, if it were me, I would always suggest writing someone a letter (or email if necessary but a letter is more personal), instead of talking to them directly, and it is actually an approach that is beneficial to both parties. By writing a letter you can make sure you get all your points down and really say what you want to say clearly, rather than gabbling some incoherent speech out of nerves in the moment, that doesn’t really get what you want to say across. It also helps the person you are approaching, as having someone tell you that they think you are crazy is difficult and often embarrassing to hear. This embarrassment may then cause someone to become defensive and say things that they don’t really mean either, perhaps snapping back because they are insecure or laughing and trying to brush it off to distract you from the conversation (a technique I myself am world champion of). With a letter the person can read it in their own time and thus really think about it properly without giving in to the initial emotional response conversations can bring. It also gives them some privacy to deal with the topic and means that they can re-read it at a later date if it is something they want to think about and come back to. When it comes to talking to someone about their mental health, writing things down in a letter is awesome.
OPTION TWO: I would always say that bringing up someone’s mental health with the person themselves should be the first plan of action, as it can be upsetting to know you have been discussed by other people behind your back. However, in some circumstances, if for whatever reason, option one is too difficult or has been tried and failed and things are getting serious, talking to someone’s family can be a great second option. If there is a misunderstanding and the family can confirm the person is fine then great, but if not it is important for the person struggling to have some people close who are perhaps more aware of what is going on than they are. Families often miss things because they are around their loved ones so much that they don’t notice subtle gradual changes over a long period of time and sufferers may not realise what is going on either or be in full blown denial about it. Having a friend or outside point of view can therefore be really valuable.
OPTION THREE: People often think that mental health helplines are for people who are themselves mentally ill but this is not the case at all. Samaritans for example is available to anyone for any issue regarding mental health (or things that are nothing to do with the workings of the brain, you can call them about anything, even if you lose your keys and want to yell at someone, though I WOULD NOT advise this), so calling them to get some support may be a good thing to do so that you have someone looking out for you too. Samaritans don’t give advice, but if you are worried and have nobody to talk to about your friend, it can be therapeutic for you to get it off your chest and take care of yourself. There are also a lot of other helplines including ones like “Rethink mental illness” who may be able to offer advice, so I will put a few numbers at the end of this post. After all as my favourite nurse at my previous hospital said to me, “you can’t look after other people if you don’t look after yourself first”. Wise words indeed. Think of calling a helpline, or maybe visiting a mental health charity website, as fitting your own oxygen mask on a plane before you help others (only closer to the ground and with what I hope would be an ample supply of oxygen).
OPTION FOUR: Once you have managed to somehow bring up the topic of mental health with someone you care about, the next step should always be to get them to go to a GP. Maybe offer to go with them as support if that is possible, but either way it is their GP who will know the next course of action and will be able to discuss potential mental health services in their area.
OPTION FIVE: This one probably sounds really dramatic but if you are seriously concerned about someone’s mental health and attempts to bring it up with them or their family directly have not worked then it is always an option to go to A&E or call an ambulance. Obviously this isn’t something to do lightly and should only be done in extreme circumstances, but if you ever think someone is in immediate danger because of their mental health then it can be necessary. With this there is of course a potential risk of upsetting or annoying the person you are calling an ambulance for, but ultimately it is always better to have a very angry live friend than no friend at all.
Overall, approaching anyone because you are concerned about their mental health is never going to be the most pleasant experience and probably not a moment either of you will want to tweet about or document with an album on Facebook. Nevertheless I hope these options at least help give some kind of idea as to how to make it a little more bearable. Unpleasant or not, talking to people you are worried about is very important and shouldn’t be avoided. Who knows, one day the person you are confronting might thank you…and, if they don’t and get really angry at you doing any of these options, just tell them it isn’t your fault and that a weird bespectacled person on the internet was the one who gave you the advice that they followed, I am more than happy to take the blame.
Stay safe everyone and have a great day.
HELPLINES AND FURTHER ADVICE
08457 90 90 90 – 24 hour support seven days a week
Rethink mental illness:
0300 5000 927 – Monday to Friday 9.30am-4pm
Rethink also have a really good web article about this whole topic here: https://www.rethink.org/carers-family-friends/what-you-need-to-know/worried-about-someones-mental-health
0808 808 7777
0300 304 7000 – 6pm-11pm every day