By guest contributor Brittany Bennett, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Supporting a friend or family member who is experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition can be helpful to both the person with a condition and the support themselves. Being a support can offer your loved one comfort, strength and stability. Conversely, your loved one may be able to offer insight by sharing their experience and how they have been working to manage their mental health.
How to offer and provide support
Share your concerns and invest in learning about their experience
If you notice someone displays a change in their sleep, appetite, mood and interactions with others this is an indicator to encourage discussion around how someone is feeling. If your friend or family member is showing signs of a mental health concern you can offer support by sharing your concerns, observations, and that you are invested in learning about their experience.
Ask questions and offer support
If you have questions you intend to ask it is worthwhile to share why the answers can be helpful to you. Perhaps receiving insight into your questions can help you better understand what they are going through, or if they would like more support or help this could be an opportunity to provide that support.
If your family or friend is working to manage their mental health condition you can offer support by asking them to share their experience, inquire how often they have symptoms, how they are currently managing, and if they are seeking professional support.
If your loved one is under the care of professional support you could encourage them to share with you the experience they have with their professional support. You may want to ask questions about their condition and how often they meet with the professional by asking ‘How do you think it is going? How often do you get a chance to meet?’ and ‘Would you like anything different?’ It is supportive to share that you are interested in learning about their condition such as diagnosis, symptoms, prognosis and treatment options. It is also supportive to ask if they would like you to participate in their appointments every now and then for additional support and education.
Help them find professional support
If your loved one is not under the care of professional support perhaps ask if they have considered professional support as an option. If they have, it is worthwhile to discuss why they have not yet sought out support. It is supportive to validate your loved one's concerns and it is supportive to help identify any barriers to your loved one seeking care.
Barriers may include: limited access to the internet, transportation concerns, challenges with reading, or worries about meeting with a professional support. Consider asking if they need assistance using the internet or with transportation. Perhaps secure a time to sit down and help them navigate a computer or smartphone. It is also supportive to offer your family or friend assistance in finding a professional support that may be a good fit for them. Think out loud together. Ask if there is a preference for gender, or if they prefer to work with someone who may be younger or older. Inquire if they have a place in mind already or if there is a location they prefer. When one is ready for support they should look forward to who they are meeting with.
*Many professional supports have websites that provide information about the team members, their specialities and what a newcomer can expect during their visits.
Preparing for a first time visit with a professional support:
If one has access to the internet browse the website and look for information on what you may expect during your initial visit (i.e. expected length of the appointment, can you fill out paperwork online if you prefer to take care of that ahead of time). One can also call and ask to speak with someone regarding expectations during the first visit.
If you schedule a first-time appointment and are driving yourself ask about parking availability. Ask if the office is locked during office lunch hours and if so, what time the doors are re-opened.
Have a list of questions and concerns you have that you would like your provider to be aware of. You and your provider may discuss some of these questions during this visit or may prepare to discuss further during a future visit. Bring a list of your medical diagnoses and any current medication(s) you are prescribed. Sometimes medical conditions can appear as a mental health condition or vice versa.
If your professional support shares an observation or shares information that you do not fully understand ask them to provide an example or break down the information in a way that is better understood and relatable.
After your initial visit take time to think about what you liked, maybe wish had been different, and make a list of any questions or thoughts you can discuss during your next visit. If you are feeling unsettled or uncertain about your appointment you can discuss this with your professional support who can offer insight and guidance about your experience. It is necessary and it is invited to discuss any questions or concerns to produce change.
Choosing support to be involved in your mental health wellness:
It is important to ask ourselves who in our lives do we feel support from and who would we like to be involved in our mental health care? Having a support involved in enhancing our mental well-being can be life changing. But don’t forget… people in our lives do not know what we’re going through unless they ask or if we tell them ourselves.
Until next time, revisit the golden rule- treat others as you wish to be treated.
In the UK you can visit your GP or get support from a mental health charity by visiting the NHS website
About the author
Brittany is a US NYS licensed mental health counsellor whose passion is enhancing well-being by guiding others to do more of what they love without feeling the guilt. Brittany enjoys speaking about the benefits of promoting well-being and enhancing mental health on the daily (in her professional work, on podcasts and television, and in her personal life).