Supporting someone with their mental health is not easy. But, it is World Suicide Prevention Day (10th September) today, and in a pandemic where we are more isolated, this is even more relevant. I would like to share advice from my personal experience of helping someone who feels suicidal and more generally supporting someone with their mental health.
1) Get help - from a GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, any medical expert - they will be able to refer you to the right professional or advise you as to the next steps and what is best. This may seem very obvious, but sometimes it can actually be challenging because the person you are trying to support may not want you to or may be anxious about getting help. There is a lot of stigma around getting help especially when it comes to seeking mental health support. Absolutely anyone may need support with mental health at any given point. I think it is worth explaining that whilst it may not be easy, that they will get through it, that pain is temporary and that getting help for your mental health is no different to seeking help when you are physically ill. There is nothing to be ashamed of and whilst it may be difficult at the start and it is a long process, it gets better. There are techniques that individuals can learn to channel negative thoughts.
2) Listen and be open- I think when helping someone else with their mental health it is important to really pay attention to how they feel and not walk in with pre-formed ideas on what they might be struggling with. As every person's struggle will be different, really make an effort to understand and put yourself in their shoes. Be ready to learn more and educate yourself further on the issue. Speaking about hardship when it comes to mental health is often dismissed as attention-seeking, when in reality more often than not, they are desperate cries for help. Be aware of some of your own internalised biases from stigmas in society surrounding mental health or even your own experience. Whilst relating your own experience can be helpful in not making them feel so alone, make sure that you don't do this so much that you are forgetting to listen to their side of the story. At the end of the day, you need to ensure that you are giving the person an outlet and that they don't feel that you are turning their situation into something about you.
3) Check in on them. Some individuals can find it hard to reach out and may isolate themselves when in a mental health crisis. In my opinion, one of the most beneficial things you can do is let them know that they are not alone. What they are going through may be hard, but they don't have to do it by themselves. There is someone they can share the pain with. They are not a burden - the part they play in your life makes a difference to you. Reassure them you care about them and how they feel. Let them know that you are available to them whenever they need support and that they should never be ashamed for needing to rely on someone else. We all rely on someone at some point.
6) It is OK for you to not always be strong. Part of the difficulty I have found helping someone else struggling with their mental health is that it comes with this pressure that I have to keep it together all of the time for their sake. But you are human with emotions too - you need to let yourself feel. Whilst it is important you try and remain relaxed and transmit this sense of reassurance, it is fine if you sometimes have low moments where you are upset - it is so normal for you to be affected by the situation. In my case, showing my vulnerable side at one point actually helped someone I was trying to help open up to me.
7) Look after yourself - make sure that you are also getting support from someone else and not dealing with it on your own. I did not do this enough initially. But, you cannot help someone else to the best of your ability if you do not look after your own mental health. As much as who you are helping is going through a difficult moment, it is too often forgotten that these circumstances also massively affect people who care about the person. It can place a huge amount of pressure on you to always be there, and a huge sense of responsibility for something which ultimately you do not have complete control over. You will inevitably be affected by the situation and it can be incredibly hard for you too - from feeling helpless, feeling stressed and generally feeling like it is a lot to handle on top of your own commitments or struggles. It is really easy to get into a cycle where you are constantly putting others needs above your own to the point where you don't feel OK anymore. Making sure that you are talking to someone about how you feel and have a voice in everything happening is important for your own wellbeing. The same way you are helping someone else with their struggle - you deserve help with yours.