How to Help Someone Who May Be Struggling With a Mental Health Condition

Each year, millions of Americans struggle with their mental health. Trying to tell the difference between normal, expected behaviors and what might be considered signs of a mental health condition isn’t always easy. Additionally, the stigma surrounding mental health could result in a reluctance to admit a problem in the first place.

Whether a co-worker in the office, or friends and family at home, it’s important to know the warning signs that someone may be at risk for a mental health condition, while knowing how to approach the situation if needed. Although each condition has its own specific set of symptoms, the following is a list of the common warning signs provided by the National Alliance on Mental Health:

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling extremely sad or low
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

How to Approach the Topic With Others

So, if you think someone may be at risk, how do you appropriately approach the situation? Employees are often afraid to admit their conditions for fear their employers may treat them differently by passing them up for promotions or assuming they can no longer competently do their jobs. Friends and family may feel they’ll be excluded from activities they once participated in.

The first step to breaking this stigma in the workplace is to create a company-wide program focused on mental health, making sure employees feel comfortable addressing their concerns to others without repercussions. If you have a friend or family member you feel may need help, you can speak to the person about your concerns, either individually or with the support of other friends and family. Here are some tips for approaching the conversation with others:

  • Talk to them in a comfortable space, preferably private, where you won’t be distracted by others.
  • Ease into the conversation, and let the individual talk. It may be that they aren’t ready to speak, but knowing they have someone they can talk to when they’re ready can go a long way.
  • Be aware of their feelings and emotions. If you sense they may be overwhelmed and upset about the conversation, don’t push them to keep going.
  • Be understanding and respectful. Avoid criticizing them, making jokes, or patronizing them by saying something condescending.

If you feel someone may be at risk, the worst thing you can do is nothing. You can break the stigma associated with mental health by supporting those who need your help. Don’t look at their condition, but rather the person they are—a close friend, a sibling, a devoted co-worker. Those who have the support of others are more likely to get the help they need and work to address the concerns they’re struggling with.

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