Your words don't have to be perfect to be powerful and you don't have to be a therapists to help someone. Below are some tips to help someone you think might be struggling. Reach out to them. Your impact can be big.
- Ask questions and don't make assumptions - Ask questions like, "How are you doing?" "How are you feeling, really?" You can also pair that question with an objective observation like, "I've noticed you stopped spending time with your friends recently, are you doing okay?" Do not make assumptions or subjective statements like, "I've noticed you're very depressed" or "I think you're going down-hill, what's going on with you?" Stick to observations and let them tell you how they are feeling. Remember, you aren't in their head, so unless you ask, you don't know what's going on.
- Listen (Actively) - Let your friend finish their sentences and complete their thoughts without interrupting. Active listening involves eye-contact, presence, and acknowledging that you are hearing someone during a conversation. You don't even need to offer an immediately solution. Just listen with compassion and it will mean a lot. You might not feel like you're doing a lot when you listen but you are! Often times in our busy society, people don't get the opportunity to just be heard. It is hugely supportive for someone who is struggling to have an active, non-judgmental listener.
- Offer Encouragement and Support - Encouraging words go a long way. Things like, "I believe in you," or "No matter what happens, I'm here for you," can mean a lot.
- Don't minimize - Try not to respond with statements that minimize how they are feeling or what they are going through like, "It's not that bad, other people have it worse than you do" or "You're just having a bad week, I'm sure it's nothing". These kinds of statements make it seem like the person is over-reacting, making a big deal out of nothing. Instead of minimizing, you might try validating them, saying things like, "Wow, that sounds really tough" or "I'm so sorry, I can't imagine what that is like" or "Gosh, it sounds like you're doing your best,", that sounds challenging. I don't know how I would handle that myself."
- Make sure you have time to talk - It might seem obvious, but when you approach someone to ask them how they are doing, make sure you have the time and ability to be present with them both physically and emotionally. People are very perceptive and if you ask how they are doing, but aren't sincere or don't seem like you have time to listen, they will notice and keep their concerns to themselves.
- Be a safe person - If someone has shared information about their mental health challenge, chances are it was probably tough for them to share it. The last thing they need is for that information to be shared with others in a way that is not helpful. Don't gossip. Don't share with others. Be a safe person and let them talk about their issues on their own terms when they are ready. The only exception to this rule would be if you feel like someone might hurt themselves or others. If you are afraid that this might happen, ask the person, "Do you feel like you might hurt yourself or someone else?" OR "Are you considering suicide?" Don't be afriad to ask a direct question. If they say yes, don't leave them. Stay with them and help them connect to emergency resources like Colorado Crisis Services (1-844-493-8255). If they say no, then be a safe person and keep what they have said confidential.
- Avoid being judgmental - Don't use language like "crazy", "weird", "psycho". Stigmatizing language is not helpful.
- Check in or be available for them again in the future - While it can be a huge relief for someone to share about their mental health issue, usually one conversation won't solve all of their problems. Follow up with your friend, colleague or loved one. Reach out after the initail conversation to check in and ask them how they are doing. It's not your job to be a therapist or to be their sole support, but you can be a friend and make sure they've connected to the help they need.
Here are some additional resources on how to begin a conversation around mental health: