How to support someone you are concerned about
No one wants to talk about - or deal with - the elephants in the room.
We can sense their presence – sometimes even see them clearly. But if we talk about them, it could get messy. We might get uncomfortable and find ourselves not knowing what to say or do next.
Yet those 'elephants' are exactly what needs to be talked about.
It's time to build our confidence in having the tough conversations. It's time to find our courageous voices. It's time to know how to start a conversation with someone whose mental health and wellbeing we are concerned about.
Here are some great action steps to get you started ...
- Gather your thoughts. Perhaps even write down what you are noticing in them that leaves you concerned.
- Focus your attention on your intention. If you are worried they will think you are prying, nosy or nagging - well, stop focussing on that! Your intention is to show genuine care, listen without judgement and help them (if they want) to find further support. Focus on these things instead.
- Choose your time and place. When are they most at ease? When are they least fatigued? What time of day seems to be the easiest for them at the moment?
And in terms of place, definitely choose a location that is private and where they will feel no one else is listening. If possible, one of the best places to have a conversation of this nature can be while you're having a relaxed stroll in a local park.
- Consider how you'll start. Depending on where you see them, it might be ...
"Hey, I feel like a short walk and I'd love your company."
"Dave, are you free sometime this afternoon for a chat about how we're both coping with this COVID stuff? I feel like I need to talk about it."
(If you find them in a private location) "Joan, I'm concerned about you and how you're going at the moment. Is now a good to time to chat about it?"
Obviously, what happens next very much depends on their reaction to what you've said.
If they open up and start talking, great! Your job now is to mainy listen - without judgement or jumping in with ideas about how to 'fix' them. Ask questions to help them keep talking.
"What are the times you find the hardest?"
"How might I help you through this?"
"What do you think about seeing your GP or another health professional you trust?"
Sadly, many people tend to reply with "I'm fine" or "Don't worry - I'm just a little tired right now" - even when they're not fine and they, in fact, are a bit concerned about how they're feeling.
This is when you can share with them the things you've noticed that are different to how they have been in the past.
"I've noticed you don't come to the tennis club anymore."
"I've known you for a long time ... I've never seen you this disinterested in things generally."
"It seems to me you are more irritable than you normally are."
Again, if they open up, great. Let them talk.
And if they still claim to be fine, and you are unconvinced - say so. Ask if you can check in on them again in a few days, because you are concerned and you care about them.
Your responsibility is not to force them to get help or fix the situation.
As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink.
Continue to show your concern and desire to see them get well. Offer to make the appointment with the GP and even go with them if they want. Give them the phone numbers of support services and the online services they can access. Continue to check in and let them know you are there for them.
You never know when they might open up and be ready for that next step. And when they do, they can be certain you'll be there.