how to support friends + family with mental health challenges

how to support friends + family with mental health challenges

Hey y’all! We wanted to gather a list for anyone who is seeing a behaviour shift in a loved one and feeling anxious about having that first conversation to see if they are okay. It’s a tough one, but when you come at it with acceptance and curiosity, not judgement or blame, it can be healing and so very worthwhile. This is the “trust yourself” part of seeing a friend or family member shift into struggle. They may not say anything, they may laugh and show up to the family dinner or friend outing, but if you feel in your gut that they are not okay, please speak up. 


First of all, we need to, as a society, destigmatize mental health issues! We need to treat them as brain health issues, as proposed by Daniel Amen, M.D. in a recent article for Mind Body Green. There is no need for anyone to feel shame that an organ in their body, their brain, needs medical attention to function optimally. 


It’s important to make time to talk with that person one on one. This is the best chance to get them talking. In a group setting, bringing up their struggle will feel like pointing fingers and blaming, even if the group is close. A phone call is absolutely fine if you are separated by distance. 


Here are some things we can say to offer support to our loved ones during challenging times are: 


“Hey, what a wild time we are living through, it’s tough! How are you doing? Is there anything you want to talk about?” (if they say no, let them know you are always available to listen.)


“If you’d like to talk, I am here to listen”. (and just listen, don’t try to fix or talk someone out of what they are feeling.) 


“I care about you. You are important to me.”


“I may not understand fully, but you are not alone.” 


“What can I do to support you today?”


Ask your loved one to join you in an activity that they like, and that is normal for you to do with them, such as a walk or going to a movie. Set up the activity and make it easy for them to participate. Don’t push anyone if they don’t feel like it when you make the offer. 


I am always grateful for my friends who come to sit on my porch with me during my depressive times. It was simple for me to show up and it offered that cocoon of safety to talk openly instead of being out in public. Just going to a coffee shop can feel super overwhelming to someone who is anxious or depressed. Bring the coffee shop to them in a place that feels safe, like a park bench or their home (if their home is safe). 



Here are some ideas to support someone who is displaying depressive behaviors:



Use “I” statements such as, “I am concerned” versus “you aren’t acting like yourself”. This keeps your loved one from potentially feeling defensive, which is not supportive. Be sure to let them know you don’t need them to be or act any particular way. You are there for them as they are. 


Positive reminders

Remind the person of their positive qualities when they are engaging in negative self talk. A depressed person’s brain is lying to them and telling them they are worthless. Gently remind them what you see when you look at them, what you love, what you see as their strengths. 



Ask your loved one or friend if you can help them find resources and set up appointments for seeking treatment. 



Be patient. All types of treatment take time and can be a bit up and down. Continue to show up for your loved one with acceptance of where they are on the journey. 


It’s important to remember not to take things personally when you are supporting a loved one through a brain health crisis. This is not to say, let them lash out or treat you badly, but if they cancel plans or feel low when you hang with them, it’s not about you, or how entertaining and lovely you are as a friend. Just sitting upright is a triumph some days. 


We are here if you have specific questions! We are rooting for you!! 

Jenni and Kari

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