As a friend, family member or professional, you are one of the key sources of support, advice and understanding for someone who is experiencing emotional difficulties. The support you can offer is one of the most important ways people can better manage, improve and maintain their health and wellbeing.
Relationships and connections are a basic and core need for all of us, but for someone who is struggling, they are vital. The power of sharing thoughts and feelings with someone who cares is a proven way of tackling the challenges in our lives.
What are the signs that someone needs support?
When you’re close to someone, changes in their emotional state can be easy to miss. No matter how close we think we are to someone, sometimes they won’t reveal all their thoughts and feelings, especially if they are having dark thoughts fuelled by anger or frustration. You can’t always notice when someone needs help, but you can learn to recognise some of the common signs that someone needs to talk about their feelings, and learn ways that you can help.
While the symptoms of someone who’s struggling vary, the following points are some of the most common things you may notice:
- Physical changes like a change in their eating habits, big changes in weight or their energy levels. Constantly feeling tired, lack of sleep and poor personal hygiene can also be indicators.
- Emotional withdrawal and loss of interest in family, friends and / or activities they used to enjoy.
- Excessive worrying, or having trouble concentrating at school or work.
- Issues with memory and thinking – being forgetful or having trouble thinking clearly.
- Feeling hopeless, saying things like: “What’s the point?”
- Extreme and drastic changes in mood, being very short-tempered or quick to anger.
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope or escape from reality.
How you can help
As a trusted support, it’s important that you give the person the time and opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings. Try to make yourself available to talk when they need it.
Time, patience, care and encouragement is a vital part of helping someone. Spending time with your loved one lets them know you care, and can help you understand what they’re going through.
If you’re aware of an existing problem or your loved one already has an identified condition like depression or anxiety, learn as much as you can about the illness and its treatment, and think about how you can help. There’s a lot of information online, but some of it cannot be trusted. Find trusted and reputable sources of information.
When it comes time to talk:
- Find a clear place and time to talk uninterrupted
- Let them know you have noticed changes in them and that you’re concerned about them. Avoid any statement that seems to place blame – you can say things like, “I’ve noticed that you seem angrier than usual,” or “I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself lately.” Then tie your comments back to things you’ve noticed, like changes in hygiene or daily activities.
- Ask how they’re feeling, what is troubling them and what they need from you. Allow them to finish their thoughts without interrupting – listen carefully and take the time to understand what they are going through.
- Respect their thoughts and feelings and try not to judge. Don’t suggest that they ‘get over it’ or similar phrases as it makes them feel unimportant or silly. They need support from others, not criticism.
- Through words and body language, continue to encourage your loved one without creating an interruption – using simple techniques like short verbal responses that show you’re still engaged like ‘mmm’, ‘yep’ and reassurances like ‘I’m listening’, ‘Take your time’ and similar short phrases.
- In your everyday interactions with them, don’t just talk about their struggles. Keep talking about the everyday things you’ve always talked about together.
- Make it clear that they are not alone and that you are available to talk anytime, all they need to do is ask.
Encourage them to talk to a professional. Make it clear that seeking help is normal and healthy. If they don’t want to see someone face to face, you can help them identify other support options like online counselling that are less confronting ways to get support.
If they are having suicidal thoughts or thinking of hurting others, take these feelings seriously and discuss with a health professional.
If you need help or advice on how best to support someone you care about, our trained counsellors can help. We’re available 7am – 9pm, seven days a week. If you need to talk, give one of our Step Together counsellors a call on 1800 875 204 or use our anonymous online chat service.