How to help friends struggling with their mental health now lockdown has lifted
Turns out that old saying, we get by with a little help from our friends, is ringing pretty true right now. Here are the all-important questions to consider if you’re concerned that someone close to you is struggling
By Lucy Murray
Rates of depression and anxiety have risen while we’ve been in lockdown, which comes as no surprise. Routines were turned on their heads, socialising was strictly forbidden, and those having a ‘down’ day couldn’t even find solace in so much as a hug.
Although we’ve now had that longed-for lift in restrictions, it’s not quite as simple for those who’ve battled with their mental health, and feelings of anxiety won’t automatically disappear overnight as our worlds return to ‘normal’. The reality is that, for some, these next stages could be an even bigger struggle than lockdown.
We know asking your nearest and dearest if they’re struggling is no easy feat, but you could just be their saving grace…
How can you tell if someone is suffering mentally?
Has the life and soul of the party suddenly turned into a flake? Is the most sensible friend in your circle suddenly becoming reckless? Look out for dramatic changes in personality.
It’s safe to say that we’ve all taken a hit mentally after the last 12 months. So sometimes it can be hard to know whether someone is suffering from a low day, a low period, or they’re battling with depression, (something which must always be diagnosed by a doctor).
Lack of sleep, changes in speech, mood and appetite can all also be signs of a deterioration in our mental health. A change in performance or thinking patterns can also be red flags.
Whilst in some friends you’ll see signs, in others there could be no indication at all. So, if your gut is telling you something isn’t right, listen to it. It could be nothing, but there’s always a chance it could be something, too.
How to ask someone if they’re ok
Find a safe, quiet space and leave your judgment at the door. Everyone approaches situations differently, so just because you’re finding adapting to a ‘new normal’ easy, don’t assume everyone else is too.
There’s no one way of asking, but you could start by letting your close friends know that you’re happy to be a listening ear. If they choose to talk, ask sensitive but direct questions like: ‘how are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?’
Don’t overcomplicate it, though. Sometimes a simple: ‘how are you really?’ will let your friends know that you’re there and ready to listen.
Try to avoid sounding accusatory and don’t push for details or they may become defensive. Remember to listen rather than lead. Your main aim is to let your friends know you’re there, rather than impose what you think onto them.
Where to start when you realise a friend is struggling?
Reassure them that there are solutions to their problems, and that their feelings are valid. Try not to minimise the problem, as this can sometimes make people feel like their feelings aren’t being taken seriously.
If someone close has opened up about their struggles, be sure to stay in touch. Those struggling can often become isolated, so encourage them to help themselves by doing activities they enjoy, staying physically active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Remember, you’re a great friend but not a superhuman – and you’re not going to be able to fix their problems. So, try focusing on encouraging your friends to seek out professional help and gather information about services that are available to help them.
If you have pressing concerns over someone’s wellbeing, you can contact 999 or take them to A&E, where you’ll find trained professionals who deal with individuals in acute distress.
How can you keep your own mental health in check while supporting others?
Try our HLN Mental Health Quiz if you’re struggling to adapt to the new normal. And make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of time to enjoy the things you love – including time to sleep! Don’t feel guilty if you need to take a step back from helping friends from time to time. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup!
This feature is not intended to treat or diagnose any illness. Please seek the advice of your GP or a qualified healthcare professional if you have any questions regarding anything covered in this article.
There are many other platforms here to help if you feel like you need to talk to someone…