February 21st, 2020

Mental Health Matters: Supporting someone who is struggling

By Erin Reeder on January 11, 2020.

It is often hard to know how to help a friend or family member when they are struggling. Sometimes we feel the need to fix their problems or offer advice to make it all better. We all wish we could solve other’s problems with the wave of a wand, but sadly we don’t have the ability to completely release someone else of all of their problems. However, there are many things you can do to support someone when they are struggling, whether they are struggling with a breakup, a miscarriage, losing a job, or just having a bunch of little problems that have added up, and help them feel maybe a little less alone.

One thing we can do is offer tangible suggestions instead of vague offers of support. It is common when supporting someone to say, “Let me know what you need.” This is a great way to show you care and support the person, however, when you are struggling it can be hard to express exactly what you need clearly. You may not even know exactly what you need, especially if you feel completely overwhelmed in your situation. As well, sometimes people feel they are burdening others by asking for help. If you take this out of their hands and just offer some suggestions it tends to work better. Some examples of tangible support could include; offering to clean their place, making meals for them, going with them to appointments, running errands for them, helping them pay bills, making them a care package, helping them take their mind off their struggles for a while by doing something fun.

Sometimes people just need someone to listen. Listening makes our loved ones feel valued, appreciated and respected. You don’t have to fix the problem; you just need to listen openly, with empathy and without judgement. Take time to understand from their perspective what they are going through. Be present, put aside distracting thoughts, encourage them to keep talking, and validate the person by acknowledging their problems, issues and feelings. When you validate you say things such as, “I can appreciate that,” and “I see what you are saying.” In some cases, just being able to talk through a problem is all some people need to feel better about a situation or issue. However, if the person you care about is still struggling, you may want to help the person come up with alternatives to deal with their problems. It is important to let them come up with their own solutions before you make suggestions.

When supporting avoid trying to use silver linings to try and make people feel better. Some common things people will say are; “at least they’re in a better place,” “at least your marriage lasted as long as it did,” “it could be worse,” or “be thankful that…” This minimizes their problems, making them feel as if their problems are silly or don’t have value.

Lastly, check in regularly with them to see how they are doing. It is easy to get caught up in our own chaos sometimes and to forget to check back in with the person you are helping. Checking in doesn’t have to take lots of time, even a quick simple thoughtful text can do.

If you are still struggling to know how to support someone, take some time to think about what has been helpful in the past when someone has supported you. If it was helpful for you, there is a good chance someone else might find those same things helpful in their situation.

Remember that you need emotional support, too. If you’re run down, you won’t be able to provide the support your family or friend needs. Recognize the limits of what you are able to do. If you feel the problem may be too big for you to deal with alone, tell the person, explain why and help them reach out for help from someone else. If you are a continuous caregiver to someone you may want to consider seeking counselling yourself or maybe join a support group. Canadian Mental Health Association Alberta South East Region offers a variety of groups including; Caregiver Connections Drop-in Support Group, Whispers of Wellness (WOW) Peer Support Group, Hope & Healing After Suicide Support Group, and Living Life To The Full.

Erin Reeder is the Programs Manager at Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta Southeast Region and can be reached at 403-504-1811. To find out more about CMHA programs and groups visit http://www.cmha-aser.ca. If you are in crisis, call the Distress Centre at 1-800-784-2433.

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One Response to “Mental Health Matters: Supporting someone who is struggling”

  1. cmartel says:

    I’d like to add that mental health and addiction go hand in hand. Per a post I read on Calgary Dream Centre (a non-profit in Calgary that helps men and women with addiction), more than 6 million Canadians live with an addition of some type that is detrimental to their well-being.

    6 million people… 21% of Canadians. Read it for yourself: https://calgarydreamcentre.com/statistics-on-addiction-in-canada/

    Substances, from the seemingly innocuous (such as alcohol or cannabis) to the more extreme (opiods, cocaine, etc.) have a direct impact on our mental health.

    I love that this post encourages people to show empathy and support. I felt the need to discuss the above because awareness surrounding addiction – and how it influences the way people think, walk, talk, and act – can only serve to better our society and help those in need.

    Because you never know what lies underneath, or what someone is truly struggling with.


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