When someone is dealing with a mental health issue, it’s not always obvious.
While the signs of any mental health issue or crisis may be invisible at first glance, there are ways for those who are inexperienced in spotting potential symptoms to provide help and support to friends or loved ones who may be struggling.
“The first thing you may notice is a change in social behavior,” says Cindy Eikenberg, Director for Community Engagement at Sheppard Pratt. This may include losing enjoyment in previously loved hobbies or activities, withdrawing from friends or family, social isolation, and declining personal appearance and hygiene.
If you suspect a friend or loved one may be having a mental health crisis, early intervention is key. “When we’re able to identify signs and symptoms early, the outcome of recovery is much higher for the individual,” says Julie Cook, Sheppard Pratt’s Director of Training.
There are safe ways to provide assistance and support. To help people learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness in a friend or loved one, Sheppard Pratt offers Mental Health First Aid training. Here are four quick tips for supporting a friend based on this training:
“In Mental Health First Aid, we always teach people to plan on approaching someone privately,” Eikenberg says, as bringing up a very personal and potentially embarrassing issue in public or in a group could cause further harm.
Use “I” instead of “you”
Another approach that works well is using “I” instead of “you” when broaching the subject, says Cook. “We should use what we call ‘I’ messages so as to not put the other person on the defensive,” she explains. This is a great way to show someone you’ve noticed a change in behavior and that you’re concerned and truly care about their well-being.
Take it slow
Your friend or loved one may not be receptive to help at first—sometimes because they may not even recognize that they have a problem. If someone isn’t ready to talk, don’t put pressure on them. “But we do want to encourage them that when they are ready to talk, we are here to listen,” Eikenberg says.
Don’t ignore symptoms
Even those untrained in the mental health field can be a strong, supportive influence for people who may be experiencing mental health issues. If you notice any signs or symptoms that a friend or loved one may be having problems, don’t ignore or neglect them. “We don’t want to minimize how others are feeling, but people need to know that others have and do recover from these feelings, and we want to encourage seeking help when needed,” Cook says.