When you see a friend or family member struggling, it’s natural to want to help. But it can be hard to know what to say — and what not to say — especially if your loved one’s crisis involves their mental health. How can you approach such a sensitive topic in a way that feels thoughtful and supportive?
If your loved one has already been diagnosed with a mental disorder, try to educate yourself about the symptoms and treatment options before you begin a conversation. This way you can speak from a place of compassion and understanding. It is also a good idea to have the discussion in a private, quiet environment where you both feel comfortable — try to pick a place that feels safe and secure ahead of time.
During the conversation, try to be as direct and honest as possible. Explain specifically what you are concerned about and why you are bringing it to their attention. Also, make sure to communicate in a way that’s suited to your loved one’s age so they can understand, and engage with, what you are saying. You will also want to try to listen actively and acknowledge their feelings without making judgments. Do this by nodding as they speak and giving them positive affirmations such as “I hear you” or “that sounds very difficult”. If your friend or family member becomes upset or confused, you may need to pause or slow down. Throughout the conversation, it could be useful to remind them that you care and want to help. You can also offer:
- Support. Whether it’s driving to office visits, helping to establish a routine or assisting with daily chores.
- Hope and encouragement. Help your friend or family member focus on the positive aspects of their life.
- Resources. Notice and address thoughts about suicide or self-harm by encouraging your loved one to call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Try to avoid rushing the discussion or pushing your own agenda. Mental health treatment and recovery can require a lot of time and patience. It is also important to not take things personally, which can be difficult especially if your loved one is acting anxious, irritable or angry towards you. Just remember, these feelings are out of their control and do not reflect how they feel about you. You might also avoid:
- Catching your loved one off guard by discussing a sensitive topic without any warning.
- Trying to be the sole source of support. You can’t do everything alone — try to find support for yourself in other relationships.
- Giving up. Your help and support can be of great benefit to someone who’s struggling with a mental health crisis.
Even with all this information, it can still be difficult to figure out what to say in the moment. Here are some helpful talking points that you can use to get started:
- “I’ve been thinking about you. Can we talk about what you’re going through? Or, if you prefer, is there someone else you can talk with?”
- “I see you’re going through something difficult. How can I best support you?”
- “I care about you and am here to listen. Do you want to talk about what’s been going on?”
At the end of the conversation, check in with your loved one and continue to see how they are doing as time passes. If you think they could use extra support, suggest an online video visit with a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist using LiveHealth Online.