The latest edition of the Chiswick Herald includes this new article helping with the common concern people often have about how to talk and therefore help a friend or relative who is struggling with mental health concerns. Read it here:
How to talk to someone who is really struggling….
The Mental Health Charity Mind quotes research that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. So its no wonder that in working as a psychotherapist people often seek my advice when they are concerned about a friend or, family member. In response to this I always ask “Do you believe offering your time and attention will not be helpful - that you won’t be able to think together about a way forward?”
Often I hear the problems appear so big and complicated there is a sense of not being able to help and people can be feeling fearful that anything they might try to do and say could make things worse. It is natural to experience such a response because it is likely the person you are concerned about is thinking and feeling this way too. At this point many people become nervous that they are not equipped to help, particularly if words come up like suicidal, crazy, murderous, out of control, psychopathic or any of a whole range powerful words or the many psychiatric terms that are becoming so widely used nowadays. So it can be useful to recognise that actually you are already developing a good understanding of what is happening for them and that this means you are already able to help.
These thoughts and feelings are most likely coming from a place of isolation, loneliness and desperation and the most effective way to start dealing with things is not to panic but to see if you have understood correctly. Do this by asking something like “I am wondering whether you are thinking the problems are too big and complicated, things can only get worse and you are feeling isolated, lonely and desperate?”
In doing this you will already be helping with the feelings of isolation and loneliness and your willingness to ask questions will already be challenging the feeling of desperation. Now start to consider whether either of you might be struggling to talk freely. One of the most frequently given reasons people give for choosing to talk to a therapist is they don’t need to worry about what impact sharing their problems will have on either the other person or that relationship. So if you think that the conversation isn’t flowing freely then ask. You can then both think about whether there is someone else who it would be easier to talk to.
If you both decide to carry on talking then the next thing is to ask for as much information as possible. If suicide has been raised ask about it - “you have been thinking about suicide? what have you been thinking of doing? what has stopped you?” It is likely that the conversation will move onto the underlying problems but if not then maybe this is the time to talk to them about taking more immediate action. Again, Mind’s website suggests what action to take.
Assuming you both feel it’s proving helpful to talk then you can think through together the basis of the concerns. Consider questions like what is going on? What if anything has changed? Why might the concern have become apparent now? What has been tried to sort things out? Whats different that means you are not coping like in the past? Is this a completely new experience, if not what happened last time? What options have been considered and why have they been ruled out? What would you like to do if you could do anything you wanted? Ultimately to help them think through what to do to start to make their situation better.
Remember although you are asking questions it is not for you to answer them. You might have opinions or think your own experiences are relevant - it can be helpful to share these but ask whether they want to hear them. Opinions can be really helpful if you know the person well enough however remember answers are only really answers when we find them for ourselves - to give or be given an answer is rarely the answer! The most important opinions and experiences are the persons own.
If after having talked things through the other person is still really distressed ask what they would like to do now and what they want from you? If you are concerned tell them what you would like to do, if suicide has been talked about ask if they are still feeling suicidal. If it’s a yes then again talk about the options for getting more help. If at the end you are left feeling nervous about whether they will be alright then think about what you need. You might find it helpful to talk this through with someone.
If you have any questions about this or to book an appointment, please contact us on 020 8996 9551 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you.