Kia Ora New Zealand!
So one of the questions we get asked quite frequently is, "how do I support a mate or a loved one with their mental health challenges?" Well, we are here to demystify the process and provide you with some simple, achievable things you can do to help a mate.
So the main thing you want to think about is setting up the right environment and having the right attitude. This can work wonders in making someone feel comfortable enough to open up to you.
So the first tip is about setting up the environment:
1. Make sure the space is private enough and that you have time for them to go deep if they do decide to open up. The last thing you want is for your mate to open up to you and then for you to tell them you have to go.
2. To help you make these tough conversations less intense, start the conversation while doing something else e.g. suggest taking a walk, go for a drive or even shooting some hoops.
In NZ, we have a terrible problem with high rates of young people committing suicide, and majority of these young people are men. There is a perception that people just need to harden up and that men who share their feelings are weak. This means that quite often, men feel that they don't have people they can share their challenges with. Don't buy into that BS. You can definitely do your bit to change the culture and let people know that you're there to listen.
So now that you’ve set the scene to make it easier for someone to open up to you...
How do you start?
1. Start by sharing the challenges you are going through. Being vulnerable and showing people that you don’t live the perfect life it seems you do on your social media can make you more relatable. We need to normalise the idea that everyone goes through struggles and that we don't need to feel alone.
2. Having made it clear that you’re willing to share and listen, the next thing you want to do is ask permission to have this difficult conversation with them. It’s as simple as saying in a caring way, Hey Sarah, I’ve been noticing that you’re not your usual self and I’m a bit worried about you. Do you want to talk about it?
Remember they can say ‘no’. Don’t take it personally, sometimes you are not the best person for them to talk to or sometimes they are just not ready yet.
If you manage to get them to open up to you! Great job, now here’s the hard part.
3. Listening attentively. Often when you’re listening to someone, something they say will trigger a thought in your head, which can take your attention away from listening. You might come up with all sorts of ideas around how you can solve their problems for them. Let those thoughts go. The most important thing at this point is just to listen and be present. Giving people the space to talk without interruption is surprisingly hard, but it is a good skill to have.
4. One way you can listen more attentively is to empathise with the person you are supporting. Look them in the eye. Put yourself in their shoes. Allow yourself to feel any emotions that come up. Sometimes the conversation can get very heavy, so make sure you check in with how you are feeling and decide whether you are able to continue to support them.
5. Before you finish the conversation, try to end with talking about something positive. Get your mate to share with you something that they love doing, or used to enjoy doing.
Now, it is important to know that sometimes when having these challenging conversations, the person you care about may bring up that they have thoughts that they don't see a reason for living anymore, because of what they are going through. If someone brings up suicidal thoughts, it’s important to keep calm.
If there is any reason for you to suspect they are likely to attempt suicide imminently or have a plan to do so: Call 111 or take them to your nearest Emergency Department.
Otherwise, it is helpful for people to talk about their suicidal thoughts without feeling judged, or you having to jump into panic mode, because it helps them realise that thinking about suicide is a normal part of coping.
Of course all of this can be very overwhelming, and they might need additional support. In this case encourage them to see their doctor or a therapist.
It can be hard to find the right therapist. You could suggest they start searching on Clearhead for the best suited therapist who is located close to them, and they can book online with the therapist they choose.
Sometimes taking that first step to seeking help can be really hard, so you can definitely help them with booking the appointment or offer to go along with them to the first session if they would like.
Finally, let them know that you’re there for them. Sometimes tough conversations can be really confronting and at that moment it can feel like talking about it made it worse. Whatever happens, make time to send a message to check in with them after, let them know that you’re there for them. When you’re going through this dark period, it can seem like nobody cares and nobody is there to help. Checking in with someone is a simple but important way to help people feel they are not alone in the situation that they are dealing with.
If you feel that you are not able to support your mate or loved one in this way, you can let them know about Clearhead. Clearhead is free to use and has been developed by doctors in NZ. Clearhead uses an artificial intelligence chatbot to ask the right questions to help people work through their issue and then find them the help they need.
You can also find more resources on how to be a better support person on Clearhead .
You can also check out the video we did with TVNZ to provide this step-by-step guide.
We hope you feel that you now have the tips and tools to support the people you care about with their mental health challenges.
Written by Sam O'Sullivan, Clinical Psychologist at Clearhead.