According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults suffers from a diagnosable mental illness within any given year. This means that most, if not all of us have friends and family members that may be struggling with symptoms at any given time.
With this in mind, it is more than likely that at some point you will be called upon to help someone in need. Whether this person is suffering from suicidal ideation, substance abuse or manic symptoms, it can be difficult to know what to do and how to help. In an effort to educate the public on how to help someone that may be suffering from a mental illness, the United States government has funded a national campaign offering educational courses on Mental Health First Aid. With the prevalence of mental illness in our world, it could be argued that Mental Health First Aid is even more important than CPR/First Aid training. At the very least, Mental Health First Aid training can have a profound, potentially life saving benefit in our communities. In these courses you will learn the basics of mental illness, including how to offer support, provide resources, assess for suicide or self harm and most importantly, when to seek professional help. Both youth and adult courses are often of little or no cost to the public.
If you haven't had this type of training or are waiting to get enrolled, there are some simple steps that might allow you to help someone that you're concerned for. First, it is important to know the warning signs. Common warning signs for various forms of mental illness can include...
-Frequent Mood Swings
-Sleeping Too Much or Too Little
-Changes in Appetite
-Anxiety or Irritability
With these warning signs, it is important to remember that everyone presents differently. While one individual struggling with depression might isolate, another might present as being angry or irritable. Trust your judgment, if you notice that your loved one is behaving differently, take notice and trust your intuition. After you've recognized any warning signs, its time to check-in with your loved one. You may wonder if you should talk with them at all and the answer undoubtedly is yes! Someone who is suffering can benefit greatly simply from knowing that someone cares. Before having this conversation, make sure that you are feeling grounded. It wouldn't be wise to confront someone when you yourself are feeling particularly anxious or frustrated. If possible, choose an appropriate time and place. For example, your loved one may not be receptive to your concerns if you confront them in front of others. Choose a time when you're getting along with your loved one, possibly while watching television, over a cup of coffee or while taking a nice walk. Be honest and don't beat around the bush.
You might say something like, "I've noticed that you've been more withdrawn than usual and I'm concerned for your well-being." Let your loved one know that you care for them and want to help if you can.
Once you've initiated the conversation, listen carefully to what they have to say. Don't jump to fix the problem or assume that you know what they're going through. Actively listen to what it is that they have to say. Everyone's experience is uniquely their own and should be validated as such. Ask open ended questions to keep the conversation going. Don't attempt to take control of the situation and remember that you're their to be with and to be in support of your loved one. Recognize them for what they may be doing to handle the situation appropriately and commend them for talking about their struggles. Next, it is important to offer resources, encourage them to utilize their support systems, to practice helpful coping skills or even work with them to identify a mental health professional that can further support them in their recovery.
Finally, don't forget about them! Follow-up about how they're coping or recovering during this difficult time. Offer support when you can, a simple text message or phone call can really go a long way. Similarly, don't let their mental illness define the relationship, as this will only isolate them further. Remember, no one should be defined by their mental illness and behind their struggle is the same person you've grown to know and love. Supporting a loved one through the struggle of mental illness can be a scary thing. For this reason, it is important to practice self-care during this time. Keep in mind, you can't care for someone else if you don't care for yourself first.
In summary, if you're concerned for a loved one, there are steps that you can take to support them through a difficult time. Don't ignore the warning signs, have a conversation, be supportive, offer resources and follow-up. In addition, find a Mental Health First Aid course in your area and empower yourself to a better support your loved ones.
Please remember, if you're concerned for your loved one's immediate safety, encourage them to call a crisis hotline or if the situation warrants, don't hesitate to call 911.
In our modern world, more and more emergency responders are trained to support individuals in crisis situations. Finally, check out the resources below for more information or to find a Mental Health First Aid course in your area!