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FOR LOVED ONES

Are you worried about the mental health of someone you love or care for? Not sure how to help them?

Seeing someone you love or care for suffering because of mental health challenges can be difficult for all involved. Here are some considerations for family and loved ones who are concerned about someone and want to know how they can help.

 

SIGNS

If you are reading this section, then the chances are that you would have already noticed certain signs that have caused you to be concerned. While everyone is different, these are some general signs that someone may be struggling with their mental health if you notice changes in their behaviour such as:

  • Anger/irritability

  • Defensive and reactive

  • Increased anxiety

  • Becoming withdrawn, quieter and less social

  • Negative and despondent attitude

  • Changes in eating habits

  • The use or the increase in use of mind- and mood-altering chemicals

  • Seeing compulsive (repetitive/obsessional) behaviour and/or obsessive thoughts

  • Changes in sexual behaviour - hyper and hypo sexual

  • Reporting increased physical pain

  • Changes in sleep

  • Poor work performance

 

This list is not mutually exclusive, and more than one sign may be present at any given time. If you have noticed changes and are concerned the first step is to raise your concern, which in itself can be daunting such is the sensitive nature of mental health.

COMMUNICATION

To start a conversation with a loved one or someone you care for consider the following:

  1. Try and avoid generalisations of signs or evaluating their behaviour, this can lead to the person feeling attacked and they may become instantly defensive. Be specific about what you have noticed and bring to their attention what you have observed. Be cautious about offering too many signs you have observed. I hope you are okay as I noticed last night you were very quiet.
     

  2. Connect your observation to feelings. Try and avoid telling them or assuming how they feel.  I hope you are okay as I noticed last night you were very quiet, are you feeling okay?
     

  3. Then layer in a specific need. I hope you are okay as I noticed last night you were very quiet. Are you feeling okay? Is there anything that you need that I can help you with?
     

  4. And lastly be specific about what it is you are intending from raising this observation. I hope you are okay as I noticed last night you were very quiet Are you feeling okay?  Is there anything that you need or anything I can support you with? Just know that you are loved/cared for and I am here for you in any capacity you wish and without judgement. If you want to let me know what is going on for you right now I want to listen.

 

You may encounter resistance or defensiveness in their response. Thank them for letting you know how it came across or how they heard it and that is not what you meant. Either try again and express that you are only trying to convey that you are concerned about something you have observed that is out of character, or, ask them if they can suggest a way in which you can talk about what you have observed without them feeling attacked or unsafe.

SPACE AND SUPPORT

After initially raising your observations and concerns, creating space and providing support is essential.

1. Try not to make it about yourself. After raising your initial concerns and observations give him space and time. Just let her know you are available at any time in any capacity if she wants to share what’s alive for her in this moment. 

2. If she does talk or open up, actively listen to what she is saying. Listening to a loved one divulge very difficult feelings can be overwhelming for both parties involved. Supporting someone in a sensitive way and offering to accompany them through the difficult process of finding additional support is very important as it reduces negativity around sharing difficult emotions.

  • Avoid interrupting or making any judgments/evaluations

  • Repeat back to them what you have understood from what they said

  • Acknowledge and validate how they are feeling

  • Ask how they would like help/support

  • Check in regularly

  • Express that if she is uncomfortable talking to you that it is okay. Maybe he should consider a health care professional or voluntary organisations. Let her know that she has options available and that there are others who will be experiencing the same challenges. 

REMEMBER: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF TOO

What is also important is that you get help and support as well. Talking to a health care professional and ensuring that your own feelings and needs are being addressed is of equal importance and walking the line between both is what makes the situation challenging for all parties.

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