Worried about someone’s mental health?

Written by Becky Banham
Becky Banham
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Sean Tierney

If you're worried about someone else's mental health, it's likely you'll want to help. The question is - what can you do? Here we'll look at how you can support loved ones and start a conversation about mental health.

How can I tell if someone's struggling with their mental health?

Mental health difficulties can be triggered by life events like losing a job or experiencing bereavement, or they can arise seemingly out of nowhere. If you are worried about someone, chances are you've noticed something different about them. This is often the first sign that something may be wrong and that 'difference' could be a range of things. 

Here are some changes you can look out for:

  • Have they become more withdrawn than usual? 
  • Has their performance at school or work gone downhill lately?
  • Have you noticed significant changes in their eating habits, such as eating more or less than usual?
  • Have you noticed a change in sleeping habits, sleeping more or less?
  • Have you noticed them becoming more irritable and quick to anger?
  • Are they complaining of physical ailments, like headaches or digestion issues?
  • Have you noticed a change in how they speak - rapidly, incoherently, or slowly?

Worried about a child’s mental health?

If you think your child is troubled about something or may have a mental health condition, the most important thing to remember is not to panic. Every child is different and there could be a number of reasons why the child’s behaviour has changed.

If you're worried, try to find a way of bringing up the conversation without putting pressure on them. To give you some ideas of how to approach the conversation, take a look at our guide for how to talk to children about mental health.

If you're still concerned, it's always worth seeking professional help. Your GP can refer you to the appropriate services or you can search for a child counsellor on our website. For more information on a variety of child-related issues, from bullying and behaviour issues to bereavement and separation anxiety, visit our child counselling section.

Should I talk to them?

Often, the hardest part of experiencing poor mental health is not knowing how to talk about it. So yes, if you're worried about someone then it can be really helpful to talk to them. You never know, they might have been struggling to bring up the topic with you.

Of course, mental health can feel like a difficult topic to bring up. While you may not know how this person is feeling, you can help them by asking questions and inviting them to talk about how they feel. Even if they're not ready to open up to you, the interest you show will help them see that someone is there for them.

We talk to counsellor Laura Deuster about what we can do if we're worried about someone's mental health, including if they're in crisis and how we can practice self-care. 

How can I start a conversation about mental health?

If you're not sure how to start a conversation about mental health with someone you're worried about, take a look at our tips below.

Check your mindset

Approach the conversation with the right intentions and stay as open-minded as possible. Try to do some background research if you can – the fact that you’re here reading this shows that you’re on the right track. Visit our ‘What’s worrying you?’ section for information on a range of mental health concerns.

Consider the time and place

Think about the problem this person could be dealing with. For example, if you’re worried it’s an alcohol problem, don’t bring the conversation up over a drink. Equally, if you’re concerned that someone is showing signs of an eating disorder, avoid a conversation around the dinner table.

Pick your moment

Whatever the problem is and whatever your relationship is with the person you're worried about, pick your moment carefully and try to choose a time when you're both getting along well, for example when you're out for a walk or having a cup of tea.

Ask open questions

Closed questions (questions that can be answered with a 'yes' or 'no') can shut conversations down. Try to use open questions; you could ask how they are, say you've noticed they've been acting differently lately and invite them to talk about what's going on for them.

Listen carefully (and non-judgmentally)

Ensure you are actively listening as they speak and give them your full attention (put your phone away if possible). As tempting as it might be, don't try to offer your opinion or advice straight away. Even if you have first-hand experience with mental illness, everyone's experience is different, though it could help to share that they're not alone in how they feel.

How can I encourage someone to get help?

If you think they would benefit from professional support, it can help to speak to them about this without forcing anything on them. Ultimately it has to be their decision to seek help. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Ask what they need

This is a simple but powerful question. They may need your support in a really practical way, or they might simply be happy that you are checking in with them regularly. By asking what they need, you are giving them agency and control over the situation.

Share some helpful mental health resources

You could send them links to useful mental health websites or forums where they can read up about mental health problems, share their experiences with other people, and find out how to get help.

If you think they might benefit from seeing a counsellor, point them to Counselling Directory and encourage them to browse counsellor profiles to get a better idea of what therapy involves. There are still misconceptions about counselling and psychotherapy, which can put some people off the idea. But, reading personal stories from others and knowing what to expect from a session can help to take away those doubts and anxieties.

Offer practical support

Showing that you're there to support their decisions and offer emotional support is invaluable. Sometimes, though, there are small tasks you can do to help them find their own solutions and make life a little easier – offering them a lift to GP appointments or helping them write a letter to their boss, for example.

Even if your friend, family member or colleague does manage to get the support and treatment they need, they may still need your support. The 'support' you show doesn't have to be anything big. Simply picking up the phone or sending a text to see how they are can be a big help.

What do I do if the person is in crisis?

There may be times when your friend or family member needs to seek help more urgently, such as if they:

  • have harmed themselves and need medical attention
  • are having suicidal feelings, and feel they may act on them
  • are putting themselves or someone else at immediate, serious risk of harm

If you feel able to do so, stay with them and help them call 999 for an ambulance, or help them get to A&E. If it's less urgent, you can call 111 for advice. 

What can I do if they don’t want my help?

If someone you care about is struggling but can't – or won't – reach out for help, it's understandable to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless. However, it’s important to accept their decision and to understand that there are always limits to what you can do to support another person.

Something you can do is continue to check in on them. Keep asking them how they're doing and keep offering your support. Be there for them as consistently as you can, and one day they may be more open to getting help.

How can I look after myself?

All of us go through difficult times in our lives and, sometimes, these will see us leaning on friends or family for support. When you’re the one taking on the role of a supportive friend, however, it can be easy to let your own needs fall by the wayside.

Although it might sound easier said than done, it’s really important that you prioritise yourself and your self-care. After all, you can be of no help to others if you are not feeling supported and capable of taking on someone else’s mental load.

We share some ways that you can support others while protecting your health.

Don't forget that you might also benefit from receiving support yourself. You could call a helpline, such as the Samaritans to talk about how you feel or consider seeing a counsellor to help you manage your mental well-being. Caring for others is a wonderful thing, but it has to start with you caring for yourself. 

Being in the role of carer and supporter can be a heavy weight to carry, so it can be extremely helpful to have other things in place, as part of self-care. This may be a hobby, sport, or friendship group, in addition to considering having personal counselling.

- Counsellor Isabel Fulcher (MBACP) 

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