5 ways to help someone who is suffering mentally
© Getty Images

Good mental health, like good physical health, is often taken for granted. It is easier to spot someone who is struggling physically, but it can be very challenging to see if someone is struggling with their mental health.

People who have chronic mental health issues often learn to mask or hide their condition from others. They also are generally uncomfortable talking about the thoughts that exacerbate their condition.

People are usually secretive about a mental health condition because there is negative stigma associated with it. Many people with mental illness don’t like to talk about how they are feeling because they fear being labeled as crazy.  

Understanding the stigma connected to suffering from a mental health issue is important when trying to assist someone else with their problem. That person often feels weak, inferior or ashamed that they have a mental health problem. 

So here are some tips on how to help someone you believe might be suffering from a mental health disorder.

1. Approach the individual with kindness and care rather than confronting them

Phrases like “What is wrong with you?’ will only put the individual on the defensive and not help them to feel safe to talk about their issue.

The approach that works best is something like, “I’ve noticed that you have been a bit off your game lately. Is everything okay?”

The person will generally make some excuse and not be totally open. The best response is to gently challenge that statement by saying something like, “It’s okay to be off your game, but I’m wondering if there isn’t something else going on.”

If the person gets angry or defensive stay in a place of concern and compassion. Remember you are catching this person in a very difficult emotional place so don’t expect them to act normally.

2. Share your own past struggles

This helps the struggling person understand that it is okay to struggle and be weak at times — everyone is. Also let the person know that you may not be able to relate to their specific struggle but that you want to help. Don’t say things like, “I know how you feel” because it will not be true unless you also have a mental health disorder.

Validate their struggle with phrases like “It takes a lot of strength to face this issue.” This helps to empower the individual rather than making them feel weak.

3. Provide a safe and non-judgmental place for them to talk openly about their struggle

If the person you are concerned about feels any judgment they will usually shut down. Getting them to talk about their struggle is very important. Telling someone who is having suicidal thoughts that their thinking is ridiculous is only going to make them feel invalidated. Stay calm and don’t react to things they say, like I cut myself everyday.

Self-mutilation is a foreign concept to people with good mental health but someone struggling with depression finds the practice to be comforting.

4. Once the person opens up about their struggle don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions

Questions such as, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?’ or “Are you having any suicidal thoughts?”  If they answer is yes to these questions ask, “How and when would you hurt yourself?’

The answers to these questions will determine how serious the person is about self-injury.

5. Provide a solution

Help them find a hotline, a counselor to talk to or take them o a hospital if they are in danger of hurting themselves. Let the person know that you will be there for them and can accompany them, if necessary.

Not everyone who struggles with a mental health issue is in imminent danger. Let the individual know that you are available to talk more in the future.

People who are struggling will not always take the first invitation for help. However, knowing they have a concerned person in their life is important.

Monte Drenner is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Master Certified Addictions Counselor 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.