Worried about someone’s mental health?

If you're worried about someone else's mental health, it's important to do what you can to help. The question is - what can you do? You might wonder how to bring up the subject of mental or emotional health with a friend, family member, or colleague. Will they be insulted? Will they think you're being nosy? What if you push them further into denial or trigger even worse feelings and behaviours?

Being worried about someone else's mental health and not knowing what to do can be extremely stressful. The action you take will depend on your relationship with this person and it will also depend on what kind of problem you suspect they have. While every situation is different, there are some practical guidelines you can follow for knowing what to say and where to get help. The more you know about mental health and counselling, the better the position you will be in to offer informed advice and to access the support your loved one needs.

Remember, it helps to feel like someone else cares. Without support, compassion and empathy, mental illness can be a very lonely road.

Spotting a mental health problem in someone else

Perhaps you're worried about someone else's mental health - how do you know if their behaviour is an illness or a passing phase caused by difficult events in their life? When things go wrong in life, we become vulnerable to mental health problems. Events including bereavement, divorce and redundancy can lead to periods of mental distress. However, when those initial reactions don't settle after time, they can develop into long-term mental health problems.

Take the time to observe your friend/family member/colleague's behaviour and look out for the following signs:

  • Have they become more withdrawn than usual? Are they avoiding social contact and refusing invitations?
  • Have you noticed them crying a lot? Puffy cheeks and red eyes can indicate they've been crying in private.
  • 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?
  • Are they looking more dishevelled or like they aren’t taking as much care of themselves?
  • Have you noticed a change in how they speak - rapidly, incoherently, or slowly?
  • Do they seem to be spending extravagant amounts of money?

Remember that every mental health problem has its own signs and symptoms - often these can be missed or dismissed as quirky character traits. But, if you have a feeling something isn't quite right with someone you know very well, then chances are, it's not. It’s really important to listen to those gut instincts, these could be the only way your loved one gets the help they need.

Worried about a child’s mental health?

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

If you're worried, you can talk to the child. 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, Happiful has created a 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 recommend local organisations who can offer support 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 mental health section.

Should I talk to them?

Often, the hardest part of having a mental illness - whether diagnosed or not - is not knowing how to talk about it. So yes, if you're worried about someone else's mental health then the best thing you can do is talk to them. You never know, they might have been struggling to bring up the topic with you.

Of course, mental health isn't exactly a natural conversation starter and, depending on your relationship with this person, you might find it an extremely difficult topic to bring it up. Most people struggle to broach difficult subjects, even with family members and close friends (sometimes especially with family members and close friends).

While you may not know how this person is feeling inside, 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 in them will help them see that someone is there to listen.

Father hugging son

Talking to someone about their mental health

How do you bring up the topic of mental health with someone you're worried about? If you're not sure how to start a conversation about mental health with someone you're worried about, you can follow our tips below.

  • Check your mindset. Approach the conversation with the right intentions and keep 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 vast range of mental health issues.
  • Consider the time and place. Think about the problem this person could be dealing with. 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 quite nicely i.e. when you're out for a walk, having a cup of tea, or doing something casual like watching TV.
  • Be honest. Don't beat around the bush - take control of the situation and be forthright. Ask how they are, say you've noticed they've been acting differently lately and that you want to help if you can.
  • Listen carefully. Don't try to offer your advice straight away - at first, you need to listen to them. Even if you have first-hand experience of mental illness, everyone's experience is different. Although you may be trying to normalise the situation, you could risk sounding like you think their situation is trivial.

How can I encourage someone to get help?

Try to focus on the things they’re doing right - no matter how small. Tell them they're doing a good thing by talking about it and show them a clear path ahead. While you should try to give them hope, you should also try to resist taking too much control. The fact remains that you don't know what's going on in their head.

Provide 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 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, and won't accept any help you offer, it's understandable to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless. But, it’s important to accept their decision and to understand that there are always limits to what you can do to support another person.

This video by Mind explores the common question, ‘Can you make someone get help with their mental health?’

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.

But, 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 support to others if you are not feeling supported and capable of taking on someone else’s mental load. Here, Happiful shares some ways that you can support others, in a way that’s sustainable and protects your health.

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, so that there is somewhere that everything can be talked through in confidence, with no judgement over the different feelings and experiencing that the situation has brought about.

- Isabel Fulcher (MBACP) explores how to take care of yourself if you’re supporting a partner with mental health challenges.

If you regularly support someone with a mental health problem you might be considered a carer. For further information, see our carer support page or read more about self-care for caregivers.

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. They may appreciate it if you can wait with them until they can see a doctor.

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