Understanding how to help someone

Mental health problems are common

About one in four people experience mental health problems each year, so most of us will know someone who has struggled with their mental health.

We can all feel  anxious, stressed or  low at times, but it can be a problem if these feelings get worse, go on for a long time or affect our daily lives.

If you know someone who is struggling to  sleep or is having issues with their mental health, there are things you can do.

It can take time for someone's mental health to improve, and some of us may need professional help, but there are ways to help and support someone get back to positive mental health.

We also have  help and advice if you are worried about a child or young person.

If you're worried about a work colleague or employee, or want to learn more about mental health support in the workplace,  Mental Health at Work has relevant information and resources.

Look after yourself first

It can be upsetting to hear someone you care about in distress. Be kind to yourself and take some time to relax or do something you enjoy. Discover more mental wellbeing tips.

How you can help others

Express concern and say you can help

Letting someone know you're worried is a good way to open up a conversation. This shows you:

  • care about the person
  • have time for them, and

that they do not have to avoid things with you.

Act as you usually do together

Do what you usually do - behaving differently can make someone feel more isolated. Do not be afraid to offer kind words and a space to talk, whether by phone, messaging or in person. 

Reassure them

The first time someone mentions their worries is a big step. It is good to recognise this and reassure them. Let them know you are there to listen when they need to talk.

Offer your time to listen

Listening is an important skill. Ask open questions that start with "how", "what", "where" or "when". This can help people open up. Get further guidance from the Samaritans.

Be patient

You will not always know the full story. There may be reasons why they have found it difficult to ask for help. Just being there can be helpful for someone who may want to open up later.

If they do not want support

Gently explore their reasons for not wanting to get support. If they are unsure whether to get help, just talking and listening without judgement could help work out what is getting in the way.

Do not force it

Do not force someone to talk to you or get help, and do not go to a doctor on their behalf. This may lead to them feeling uncomfortable, with less power and less able to speak for themselves.

Offer practical help

Little acts of kindness, like offering to do the shopping or to go to professional appointments with them, can help. Find out what works for them.

Your support helps

Overcoming fear

Fear often prevents us from being open about our mental health difficulties. We can break down these barriers and talk more openly when we know more about mental health problems and how common they are.

Seeing their problem helps 

You might worry that you do not know the best way to help or will say something wrong and make things worse.

However, the small things we say or do can make a big difference to someone. Just telling them you see their struggle can be important help. People can be afraid to let others know they are not coping, but being able to connect with others can be a relief.

Opening the conversation

Starting the conversation may be difficult, and it's normal to feel upset if someone you care about is struggling. But it can help to stay calm and assure them they do not have to deal with things alone.

Just being there for them

You can be there for them in other ways, like:

  • cooking for them
  • going for a walk, or
  • watching a film together.

A chat may come more naturally if you are doing something together first.

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