How to support someone with a mental health condition

By Ella Rossanis

3 minutes

09 September 2020

Mother and daughter hugging

Support from family and friends is a key part of helping someone with a mental health condition, but knowing what to actually say and do can seem overwhelming. We ask the professionals for their advice.

“Support is really important for all of us,” says President of the Institute of Clinical Psychologists, Dr Marjorie Collins. She explains that a good social support network is one of the ways we can help to prevent some mental health issues, and it’s especially important for those who are already diagnosed.

But what does support actually mean? “Sometimes it can be as simple as just being present for someone in need,” Dr Collins explains. “Being a soundboard for them if it’s helpful, raising issues with them kindly and gently in a supportive way.”

Mental health conditions are more common than you might think; about one in five Australians will experience one at some point in their lives.

Typically defined as health illnesses, mental health conditions significantly affect how someone feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with others. The most common of these types of conditions in Australia are depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Sometimes it won’t seem obvious that someone with a mental health condition needs your support, but it’s good to be prepared if and when they do. Here are some tips:

  1. Tip 1: Listen

  2. “More specifically; actively listen,” says Counsellor and Well-being coach Megan Sanderson. “Sit together with minimal disruptions and really try to take in what they’re saying without interrupting,” she adds. It takes a lot of courage for someone to open-up about what they’re going through so it’s important to make them feel heard when they do.

  3. Tip 2: Keep their environment in mind

  4. Mrs Sanderson advises that it’s important to consider your surroundings when planning a catch-up with a friend or family member with a mental health condition. “Ask yourself if you need to be somewhere quieter, somewhere with less distractions,” she says. “Making sure that person feels safe should be a priority.”

  5. Tip 3: Support not fix

  6. Seeing someone we love in pain is heart-wrenching, especially when we can’t relate to their struggle, but “you can’t solve their problem for them, and you can’t actually make them better,” Dr Collins says. “Recognising your own limitations is really important,” she adds. The best you can realistically do is to make someone feel like they’re not alone–that you’ll be there for them when they need you.

  7. Tip 4: Refer them forward

  8. If at any point you feel that someone needs more support than you can provide, it’s okay to point them in the direction of someone who can. “It’s easy these days to get access to good psychological help,” Dr Collins says. “You can contact a clinical psychologist in your area directly or start with a GP for a mental health care plan and take it from there.”

For tips, understanding and direction about what to do next, here are some organisations that can help:

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Disclaimer

This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.