June 18, 2024

On Eve Of World Mental Health Day – How to Best Support Someone Suffering Mental Ill Health


A LEADING expert has shared her advice on how best to support someone suffering with mental ill health.

Author and counsellor Lynn Crilly says recent campaigns to encourage people to speak about their feelings should be applauded.

But she fears not enough focus is given on how to then support someone who cries out for help.

That’s why ahead of World Mental Health Day, on October 10, Lynn, whose own daughter, Samantha, overcame mental ill health, is sharing tips on how to best approach the matter.

Lynn says: “It can be really hard to know what to say to someone who is suffering with mental ill health. You do not want to ignore the illness, but sometimes you just do not know if you are saying the right or wrong thing.

“In recent years it has been fantastic to see more and more people saying how we need to talk more about mental ill health. But not enough focus has been placed on how we do that. Fears over saying the wrong thing can often be the barrier that stops people from reaching out to help someone. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Outlining what to say and what to avoid Lynn explains

What not to say:

  • Try not to apportion blame or anger by saying things like: “Why are you doing this to us?” or “Look at the effect this is having on the rest of the family”.
  • Try not to minimise the problem by saying “What do you have to worry about?” or “This is all in your head”.
  • Try not to ask someone to “Snap Out of It” or “Pull yourself together”. Anxiety disorders can be a complex, deep-rooted issue and cannot be switched off just like that.
  • As hard as it is sometimes to not say ‘How can you be so selfish? ‘or “I cannot see why you cannot just ignore it”, we have to remember that mental health disorders are a serious mental illness and like any physical illness it is not the sufferer’s choice.
  • Try not to judge them, whatever they confess to you. Tell them “I respect your viewpoint” even if you do not agree with what they are saying.
  • Try not to say “I do not know how to help” as they are looking to you as someone to take their pain away.

Lynn says: “Getting cross and shouting will only make everyone feel worse, including you, no matter how frustrated and disheartened you may be feeling, it is important to try and put those feelings aside when talking to your loved one. It is vital not to belittle their feelings, as they will seem overwhelming to them, this will only exacerbate the angst they are feeling.

Throwing around positive clichés, however well meant, may also not be helpful, coming across as empty and worthless. Instead try to tie your comments and thoughts to their situation, praising them for specific steps they have taken forward or reminding them of their personal attributes that you love and admire so much.”


What to say

  • You might ask questions such as: “Can you tell me what is happening?” or do you feel you would rather talk to someone else?”
  • Give them space and time to express themselves, asking: “Would you like my advice or would you rather I just listened?”
  • Encourage your loved one by saying something like: “There is nothing you can say that will stop me loving you”
  • Praise them for every small step forward by saying: “This must be hard for you, but you are going to get through it “or “I am so proud of you.”
  • Help by taking away their fear by telling them “You are not alone, and I would like to help you in any way I can.”

Lynn says: “A lot of the time, simply just listening can be helpful. It is important to talk to the sufferer in the same way you have always done, remembering they are still the same person that they were before the illness.

“It can be useful having certain code words between you. These can be words that the person with the illness  can use to demonstrate when they want to talk or when they are struggling, or they may use their words to talk about their anxiety and how they are feeling without actually naming the illness. Perhaps this is where the ‘Black Dog’ or ‘dark cloud’ associated with depression came from, as it is hard to say the words ‘I’m depressed’ or to pronounce ‘I need help’. “