Founder of I AM HOPE Mike King shares the top five tips for helping someone who’s going through a tough time
At some point in our lives most of us have had a yarn with a friend, colleague or family member where they confided they were struggling with their mental health, and coping had become difficult.
I AM HOPE founder and the country’s most prolific mental health provocateur, Mike King, has spent years educating the public on mental health issues in New Zealand, breaking stereotypes, smashing through the stigmas and tackling our terrible mental health statistics from a different mind to that which created them.
Einstein says it best – “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve been getting. We need to change our approach to mental health completely. No more ambulances-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff-type responses.
It can be intimidating and intense when someone comes to you for help – so, where do you start? First, begin with having self-awareness and observing your internal response, minding your reaction and judgment, and then taking educated action to help that person. And then, here are five tips from I AM HOPE for helping someone who confides in you about their declining mental health.
Validate thoughts and feelings
Often when someone comes to us with a problem we instinctively try to fix it, or worse, minimise their thoughts and feelings. For example:
“It’s not that bad, others have it worse.”
Stop! No matter how the situation appears to you and whether you think what they are feeling is ‘accurate’ or not , it is irrelevant. Everyone is entitled to feel how they feel and those feelings are real to that person. Instead, try listening without judgement, validate their thoughts and normalise their feelings.
Try saying something like, “it sounds like you are going through a lot right now and I’m not surprised you feel this way, most of us would,” to help make them feel heard and understood.
Learn as much as you can
Get as much information as appropriately possible without being overbearing or nosy. This way you can make discreet enquires, look into types of suitable help available and how best to access them.
Your struggling friend or colleague might not want the help straight away, and that’s okay, but when and if they do arrive at that point, you’ll be ready.
Don’t be overbearing
The line between checking in with someone to make sure they are okay and being overbearing can be a fine one, particularly for parents.
Dealing with a struggling teenager who is having major mood swings and refuses help is every parent’s worst nightmare. As parents, all we want to do is to help our child and make things better, but we often get frustrated which only makes the situation worse.
Try asking, “Is there anything you need from me or should I just give you some space?” instead.
Another way to approach the situation is by giving them space but letting them know you love and care for them. Try saying, “I’m going to give you some space, but you need to know this is hard for me because I love you and I’m worried. Is it okay if we stay in text?”
Connect with them in other ways by encouraging them to take small steps to focus on their physical health, such as going for a walk together in the fresh air. A combination of fresh air and physical exercise can improve mental health.
It’s no secret that it can be extremely difficult when you are worried about a loved one’s state of mind, so don’t be afraid to share those feelings with someone close to you to ease the load.
Stay in txt
Following on from the above, there was a reason we suggest parents of struggling teenagers or children could offer texting to keep communication lines open regarding their child’s thoughts and feelings. For many people who are struggling, talking face to face or even on the phone can feel confrontational and coming up with answers ‘on the spot’ can be overwhelming, particularly when they are down on themselves.
The good thing about texting is it allows the person some space and gives them time to consider their answers without the pressure.
A simple text to ask someone how they are doing and engaging in a short conversation about their day will help more than you think, and also reminds them that they are valued and that you care.
It’s okay to say ‘I don’t know what to say‘
Often when people are talking to us about their problems, particularly around suicide ideation, we’re the ones who may be left feeling overwhelmed. Thoughts such as “this is too much,” “I don’t know what to do,” and “what if I say the wrong thing and something happens,” arise. It’s common to feel pressure to do the right thing.
These feelings come from the basic human instinct of wanting to fix things and make the situation better. Humans find it difficult to walk away without contributing in some way.
If you find yourself having these thoughts or are faced with the pressure, pause and remind yourself that it is not your job to fix anyone. None of us are qualified to fix people or take on their problems (unless you are a trained professional!). But we are all qualified to offer unconditional love and hope, and if we can, pathway that person to the help that they need.
So again, listen without judgement, validate thoughts and feelings and if you need to, it’s okay to say “I don’t know what to say about that but I can see it’s really overwhelming,” followed by, “but if you want to get help let me know and I’ll help you find it. And if you want me to, I’ll come to the appointment with you so you are not there by yourself.”
Always remember, the most valuable thing you can give to someone is your time.
I AM HOPE and Snap Fitness NZ have partnered to launch Move Your Mood for Good, an initiative to raise awareness and funds for mental health this October. During Mental Health Month, New Zealanders will be encouraged to set a goal to move their mood for good and embrace the way positive lifestyle habits, like getting your body moving, greatly improves your overall mental and physical wellbeing. To get involved visit: https://snapnation.co.nz/mental-health-month/.