Whether you struggle with yourself or not, knowing how to support someone struggling with mental health can be challenging. Each individual has their own unique way that mental health issues manifest for them, and each has a different personality that requires various individualized needs of support. Friends and family, or their support system, is one of the greatest protectors of a healthy mental health status.

Many people seek help from their support system before reaching out for professional help, so the support you offer can be highly valuable. If someone comes to you because of difficult thoughts and feelings, it can be common not to know exactly what to say- and that’s okay. You do not need to be a professional to be a caring and supportive friend. As a counselor in Tampa, FL, we are available to guide you through these tough conversations and support you.

Here are 12 tips on how to support someone who is struggling with their mental health:

  1. Ask what they need from you. Do they need you to just listen, give advice, or connect them with professional help?
  2. Listen. Giving someone space to let out the thoughts and feelings going on in their mind can be highly beneficial. But also, make sure you have space to listen to potentially emotionally distressing topics before offering your support. 
  3. Offer reassurance. Seeking help can feel scary and lonely. Let your loved one know that they are not alone. Express your concern and support for them, and remind them that further help is available. 
  4. Stay calm. If the individual shares something that may be upsetting, remain calm. You want them to know that they can come to you with these issues, and not get a big reaction or make you upset in the process. 
  5. Be patient. As a supporter, allow this person to set their own pace on seeking help or support. 
  6. Try not to make assumptions. This is not the space to tell them what you “think” you should do, unless they ask for advice. Allow space to let your friend feel their feelings. Ask questions, if need be. 
  7. Keep them involved and independent. Just because they may be experiencing mental health struggles, they still may want to be involved in social activities and be invited to things, even if they continuously say no. Allow them to make their own choices and decisions. 
  8. Increase your knowledge to be able to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of a mental health problem, if that makes you feel more comfortable. 
  9. If they choose to seek professional help, ask if they want assistance in writing down questions to ask, finding a therapist, or filling out paperwork. 
  10. Ask them if there are any specific tasks that you can help with to make things easier for them. Like finishing a chore or household task for them, or arranging childcare.
  11. You can’t force someone to talk to you, seek help, or see a doctor. That is in their own circle of control. And don’t take it personally if they are hesitant, and you aren’t to blame if things get difficult. 

While a support system is a vital aspect to decrease mental health issues, as a friend or family member, it is not your responsibility to carry someone’s emotional distress. As Tampa counselors, we are here to provide professional and evidence-based support to treat an array of mental health problems. 

Seek immediate assistance if you think your friend or family member is in danger of harming themselves or someone else. Call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide Hotline for further assistance.