It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed if someone you know is struggling with a mental or physical issue. We’re given very little instruction on what to do in these situations and we might be overloaded by the competing pressures we have of work and other responsibilities. But, by taking these proactive steps we think you will be able to find a way to offer support in an impactful way while maintaining or even enhancing your own wellbeing.
1. Educate yourself
No matter what the issue is, it’s likely you can go and find some more information about it to help you better understand what your friend, partner, relation, or colleague is going through. You can use a simple internet search (but be wary of where information is coming from) or ask for help from a charity or other respected source of knowledge. Many charities offer helplines or email services.
2. Ask how you can help
One of the simplest and yet most powerful things you can do for someone who is struggling is to ask them how you can help. Many people are afraid to do this because they think they will be overwhelmed or asked to do something that they then can’t deliver. But this is rarely the case. People don’t want to be rescued – they want to be supported and this is something all of us have the skills and ability to do.
3. Show empathy
Don’t pretend you know exactly what the person is going through but instead aim to show you care. You can do this both through your body language and facial expressions (attentive listening), by asking about what the person is experiencing and by saying things like “I can’t pretend I know exactly how this feels, but I am here for you.”
4. Don’t be judgemental
A wise person once said: if you had had the same upbringing and inherited the same genes as someone else, you would be exactly like them. So never judge. Not only is it unfair, it is unhelpful as well. Create a space where someone’s feelings are shared and their experience validated.
5. Don’t trivialize
Again, there can be a temptation to roll your eyes and say things like “oh, it can’t be all that bad” or “many people go through worse.” This only communicates to the person that you think they are being silly or that their feelings aren’t valid. Similarly you might think it is helpful to tell someone to “pull themselves together” or “get over it” but this undermines the reality of their experience and teaches them to lock it up, rather than deal with it.
6. Respect their wishes
There will be times when the individual doesn’t want to talk about the issue they are going through and that must be respected. You may feel like it is best to get something out in the open but so long as there are times when the person is addressing it – or times on the horizon – they shouldn’t be expected to do so all the time.
7. Celebrate wins
When someone isn’t able to do all the things they used to or do them as quickly, they can become extremely frustrated. Try to send them a message that actually any victory is important and, hopefully, a step in a positive direction. Doing things when you are well is not necessarily easy but it’s a lot easier than doing them when you are unwell or struggling in some way.
8. Care for yourself
No one person can be solely responsible for the care of another. Everyone needs support. Try to enlist the help of other friends or family so you can take some time out. And make sure you are reserving quality time just for you to do the things you enjoy (not to mention those things that are necessities for self-care like washing and healthy eating).
9. Encourage professional help
If the issue is severe or worsening, gently suggest seeking professional help. This might include a doctor, therapist, counselor, or support group.
10. Offer practical help
When someone is unwell or struggling they may well be unable to do certain practical things like cleaning, getting in food, or dealing with correspondence. Offer to help them with this – they might be embarrassed to ask so it’s good for you to be the person to raise it.